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Louisville Group Using Shipping Containers To Turn Vacant Lots Into Public Space

The grass is nearly knee-high and litter-covered on the vacant lots at the northeast corner of Wilson Avenue and Dixie Highway.

The two shaggy lots aren't unusual for the Park Hill neighborhood, where nearly 8 percent of properties — more than 340 parcels — are vacant or abandoned, according to a 2014 report from Network Center for Community Change.

But Terra Leavell she sees more than tall grass and trash.

She sees opportunity.

Leavell, executive director of the Canaan Community Development Corp., is moving forward with a plan to use shipping containers to redevelop these lots into spaces that can improve the quality of life for neighbors.

Earier this week, the corporation entered into a lease-to-buy agreement for the two lots on Wilson and Dixie. In the coming months, the group plans to start construction on what they're calling "Opportunity Corner."

They plan to create an outdoor market-style setting where aspiring entrepreneurs can set up shop during the weekends, Leavell said. They're also working with the design firm Core Design to install shipping containers on the site. The containers will house a public meeting space, a cafe, an Internet-accessible computer lab and other permanent resources, she said.

Other containers will also be available during the week for health care providers or employers to set up booths to assist residents in getting a job or getting a health screening, Leavell said.

She said the corner will operate year-round; heat lamps will be brought in for the winter.

"It's just going to be a corner of opportunity," she said. "And if all of those things are done, the eradication of violence should also take place in this community."

The group is purchasing the two lots from Louisville Metro's Land Bank Authority for about $5,200. If the project isn't completed in two years, it must be returned to the Land Bank, according to a city staff report.

The entire project is expected to cost about $80,000, Leavell said.  Canaan Community Development Corp. has raised about a third of the needed funds and is seeking donations and sponsorships for the rest.

"We want to make sure that this corner is top-notch," she said. "We want to make sure that we don't just put something here, but that we put the best here."

And she hopes the redevelopment of this corner can be a catalyst for revitalizing other areas of the Park Hill neighborhood and other parts of West Louisville.

John Ligon works across the street from the lots at the Daily Mart on Dixie Highway. He's stocked the shelves at the store for more than 15 years. He said he's for any kind of development that can improve the neighborhood.

"The problem they've got now is the kids have nothing to do. They can't find a job," he said.

In 2014, the unemployment rate for the Park Hill neighborhood was 22 percent, according to the NC3 report. The rate was nearly 43 percent for residents between 16 and 19.

If anything, the "Opportunity Corner" will give people something to do, he said.

That's Leavell's hope for the space.

Her group is looking to hire about six people to maintain the space, and the weekend market will give people with a "positive hustle" a chance to develop their business.

"At the end of the day, it's just a chance to proceed and progress," she said. "What we're hoping is that we turn things around, that we bring some opportunity and light to a rather blighted area."

Updated: Here are some renderings of the project.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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