Residents weigh in on development plans for the Urban Government Center

Resident Ruth Newman placed a Post-It note with comments about Lifestyle Communities’ proposal. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Five groups hoping to win a bid to develop 12 acres in Paristown Pointe, a small neighborhood that adjoins the popular Highlands and Germantown neighborhoods, Monday night faced their toughest crowd — Louisville residents.

All five — Lifestyle Communities, The Marian Group, Steve Smith, Underhill Associates and Weyland Ventures — were given seven minutes to present their plans for the city-owned Urban Government Center, after which residents were asked to write comments and criticisms on Post-It Notes and also were given the chance to talk one-on-one with developers.

Insider Louisville highlighted each developer’s plan last week.

Of the people who Insider Louisville spoke to at Monday’s meeting, several liked The Marian Group’s presentation best. A couple found Underhill Associates the most compelling, and one liked Lifestyle Communities.

Nikki Peck and Julie Rose, who live in the neighborhood, said they didn’t know much about the proposals prior to the presentations but both pointed to The Marian Group and Underhill Associates as personal favorites.

Rose said she liked how The Marian Group incorporated a walking path across the property and that Underhill Associates planned to preserve three of the buildings, as well as incorporated plenty of green space.

Both are presented developments that are compatible with the surrounding neighborhood, Peck added. “They are trying to make something more engaging.”

Paristown Point resident Nicholas Mellen said he believed all the proposals, except for the one presented by Underhill Associates, had too much density.

“We need green space. That’s crucial,” he said. “Underhill is to be commended because they are most modest. They are making use of the buildings that are there.”

The Urban Government Center is located on Barret Avenue. | Courtesy of Google Maps

Comments left encouraged developers to make sure they don’t outprice the neighborhood.

“The idea of a store is great, but most people in this neighborhood can’t afford to shop at Rainbow Blossom,” read one comment on Underhill Associates’ proposal, which included locally owned grocery store Rainbow Blossom Natural Foods Market.

Another person commented on Louisville Stoneware owner Steve Smith’s proposal asking for “no more millennial warehouses.” A couple also noted that they thought his design was too dense, but a different note comment disagreed, saying that Smith had worked with residents and provided a good vision for the site.

During his seven-minute talk, Smith presented an estimated $250 million plan that includes Class A office space, multifamily housing, a boutique hotel, green space and commercial space.

“We are missing life and vibrancy in Paristown,” he said. “We need to solve our own problems. We need to make this a place where we want to live.”

Bill Weyland, founder of Weyland Ventures, told the crowd that they intentionally didn’t get into too many specifics with the plan because they wanted to work with the neighborhood to shape the development and because they had not been able to adequately assess the buildings on the property. He noted that the company had been working for decades on projects downtown.

“We have been trying to rebuild the city in a very wonderful way,” he said.

Notes on Weyland Ventures’ proposal asked “Where is the affordable housing?” and stated that they didn’t want the development to be similar to Norton Commons. Norton Commons Development Group is a partner in Weyland Ventures’ proposal.

Meanwhile, a couple of notes praised The Marian Group for its plan to partner with nonprofit Family Scholar House to offer low-income housing.

Other commenters said that the neighborhood didn’t need the community center The Marian Group had proposed because the Highlands Community Ministries is not far down Barret Avenue and asked the company to look at keeping some of the existing buildings.

During The Marian Group presentation, Justin Brown, a principal with the company, highlighted that its proposal including mixed-income and multigenerational housing and that 43 percent of the site would be dedicated green space.

“This has to be a place we all want to live,” Brown said. “We are simply trying to take what’s great about (the neighborhood) and incorporate it into our site.”

Although Columbus-based developer Lifestyle Communities doesn’t plan to keep any of the existing buildings on the land, the company’s chief marketing officer, Chad Thompson, said it would use the bricks from the former Louisville Baptist Hospital building to rebuild a new, similar structure in its place.

“We don’t want to lose that character. You can’t get bricks like those these days,” Thompson said. “It is something unique to the area.”

He added that Lifestyle Communities has developed mixed-use projects that include multifamily housing and commercial space in other cities in the United States.

“The scale of alone is intimidating, but we’ve done it before,” Thompson said.

Several attendees commented after the presentation that they had expected to hear more specifics about what each group wanted to build on the site.

“It’s a challenge to present a compelling vision within those time constraints,” said Joel Thompson, a Beechmont resident.

Thompson said he liked The Marian Group’s presentation because it included a variety of housing and made sure the design melded with the surrounding neighborhood.

“It was really interesting how each company tried to take into account what the community wanted,” added LaTasha Brown, a Fairdale resident who said she liked Lifestyle Communities and The Marian Group’s presentations best.