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Louisville's Business Improvement District Expands West of Ninth Street

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Louisville's Business Improvement District will expand west of Ninth Street, the historic divide between downtown and the city's prominently African American neighborhoods.

Properties within such a district have access to supplemental services that aim to create cleaner and safer spaces, said Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership. These supplemental services, in Louisville's case, come via "ambassadors" who are often seen downtown in bright yellow shirts picking up trash, watering flowers and alerting police when trouble stirs.

The expansion will mean more hours for the current ambassador staff, but not more ambassadors, Matheny said.

Janet Kelly, the head of University of Louisville's Urban Studies Institute, said  business improvement districts are viewed as attractive because they are usually a self-financed option for economic development.

But they have a mixed record as a tool for economic development tool, she said.

"Some are successful because they make an area considered aesthetically undesirable or unsafe more desirable or more safe, leading to greater patronage," she said.

Other districts are considered to be a success because they lead to heightened property values and tax revenues. Others may lead to an overall improvement in the quality of life, she said.

But, despite this, there is no real metric to evaluate the effectiveness of a business improvement district, she added.

A 2010 University of Louisville report said critics often point out that higher property values may lead to higher rents for nearby residents, and that large property owners have more power to control the inner workings of the improvement district.

Louisville is currently home to the state's lone business improvement district, which gained authorization from state lawmakers in 1991, Matheny said.

The proposed expansion depends on approval from the city's Metro Council, she said.

The cost for the expansion will be covered by the property owners within the proposed expansion area, Matheny said.

Businesses located within the proposed expansion area include Caulfield's, The Healing Place, Old 502 Winery, Mercer Transportation and Kentucky Peerless Distillery, among others.

The additional property tax is just more than seven cents per $100 of assessed property value. To be considered for inclusion in a business improvement district, at least 33 percent of the property owners who together own at least 50 percent of the area's total property value must sign on, Matheny said. If that happens, then all the property owners within an area are subject to pay the additional property tax for the service, whether they have interest in the service or not, she added.

Corky Taylor, owner of Kentucky Peerless Distillery near 10th and Main Streets, said area business owners have shown overwhelming support for the planned expansion, well beyond the 33 percent threshold, for inclusion.

"I don't know of anybody that said no," he said.

Taylor sees this move as a step toward advancing development in western Louisville, which, he said, is critical for the future of the downtown area.

"This is the way Louisville has to grow," he said. "They've almost gone as far east as they can go."

He said he expects efforts to clean up the business corridors to the west of the traditional central business district will bode well for development efforts in that area.

Taylor said he's well aware that transforming the eight block area won't happen overnight, but he hopes that the effort from city officials and business owners today will lead to a very different space in five to 10 years.

"It can be a big deal," he said. "And this is just icing on the cake."

The city's current 61-block Business Improvement District will expand to include an eight block area from Ninth Street west to 12th Street and from Market Street north to Rowan Street, Matheny said.

The proposal to expand the Business Improvement District comes as officials and business owners are making a push to revitalize northwest Louisville.

Waterfront Development Corp. officials are working to acquire the funds to expand Waterfront Park and investors are beginning to funnel money into efforts to revamp residential and commercial spaces in Portland. Housing officials, with the aid of a federal grant, are also working on an expansive plan to transform the Russell neighborhood.

These initiatives, along with the expansion of the business improvement district, are key to the overall push to transform western Louisville and boost the area’s economic vitality, said Metro Council President David Tandy, whose represents the parts of town that will be included into the district.

"West Louisville has been, is and will be in the future open for business, open for development," he said.

Jacob Ryan joined LPM in 2014. Ryan is originally from Eddyville, Kentucky. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.