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Can a Streetscape Project Improve West Louisville? Residents Hope So, But Not All Are Convinced

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Kourtney Williams knows about the Ninth Street divide, the geographic line that has historically separated downtown and Louisville's predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

Williams grew up west of that divide in the Shawnee neighborhood. And she said she can't count all the times she's heard someone say "don't go west of Ninth Street -- watch out for the West End."

It's a perception she'd like to see disappear.

And as a federally funded planning process to determine the future of the Beecher Terrace public housing complex continues, a nearby investment from Metro government seeks to take a small step toward eliminating that divide.

Mayor Greg Fischer wants the city to spend as much as $150,000 to hire a construction and design firm to improve the streetscape on Main Street between Ninth and Tenth streets. The city sent requests for proposals on Wednesday and will accept bids until Sept. 8, a spokesperson said. The project will be facilitated through the city's Louisville Forward department, which handles economic development.

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What exactly an improved streetscape will look like is yet to be seen. It could be more lighting, more landscaping, better sidewalks or public art.

Whatever the project brings, it will likely be better than what exists now on that stretch of Main Street, said James Zwissler, who works downtown and walks through the area daily to get to his parking spot.

Presently, the block is barren. Razor wire lines one side of the street and an Interstate 64 on-ramp rumbles overhead, casting a constant shadow over the crumbling sidewalk.

"Nobody wants to walk under a shaded, dirty interstate," Zwissler said.

He said he doesn't expect to see any grand improvements to the streetscape, but "basic things" can go a long way.

"Make it look like another block of downtown that has the same level of improvement, that would help a lot," he said.

But Tammie Anglin said she believes the area needs more than an aesthetic makeover.

"You can't just make it look better," said Anglin, who works in an office at 10th and Main.

She said the area has crime and drug issues. The city needs to first address those problems before investing in plants, paint and lights, she said.

Earlier this year, the city's business improvement district expanded to cover areas west of Ninth Street for the first time. That means a crew of "ambassadors" will patrol the area, picking up trash and alerting police when trouble stirs.

That, along with the plan to improve a small section of Main Street, are small steps that the Fischer administration hopes will drive economic development into west Louisville and drive out crime.

Michael Evans grew up in the Russell neighborhood, which stretches west from 10th and Market streets, just blocks from where the streetscape improvement project is planned.

He said he welcomes any investment or beautification efforts to the area that he said has long been ignored by city leaders.

"There's so much that could be done," he said.

Kourtney Williams agreed.

She said a small step, like making a block of Main Street more inviting for pedestrians, is a good start.

"I think a little change will give a little hope to people," she said. "It will make people feel appreciated, more comfortable, like the west end is not that bad."

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