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What Would It Take To Make Part Of Dixie Highway Like NuLu?

A group of residents and faith leaders want to turn a distressed stretch of Dixie Highway into a vibrant economic corridor.

The group, West Louisville First!, proposed the plan earlier this week at an event organized in protest of a proposal that would allocate part of a $10 million city surplus to a nonprofit group working in the West End.

"We have economic needs that are dire in West Louisville," said the Rev. Clay Calloway, spokesman for the group.

Calloway said the plan would create an economic development zone along Dixie Highway, from Broadway south to Dumesnil Street. The result, ideally, would be comparable to the East Market Street district known as NuLu — with retail, housing and other commercial development.

"We want the very best in West Louisville," he said. "That's the concept."

Playing off the NuLu namesake, Calloway and the group want to call the West Louisville economic zone "ZULU," an acronym for Zenith Urban Louisville United.

The plan is in its early stages. Calloway said the location is ideal because that stretch of Dixie is also slated for a Walmart development and a $17 million federal highway grant.

Presently, the stretch of street is peppered with vacant properties. There are few operating retail locations and occupied homes. Spirits company Brown-Forman is also headquarted within the proposed development area.

The city's top economic development official said the corridor's location is a prime spot for such development.

"It's certainly an area we are working on, too, and welcome additional dialogue about," said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward.

Bringing the plan to fruition, however, depends on some key elements, Wiederwohl said. First, there must be community support for such a development, she said.

"You need folks who are interested in being involved in their neighborhood and helping out," she said.

An area also needs to have existing infrastructure — public transit, Internet connectivity, buildings, as well as vacant space — to provide access and support fresh development, Wiederwohl said. Anchor institutions, or entities deeply rooted in communities, are also a critical catalyst for revitalization, she said.

"The best kind of anchors are the kinds that employ a lot of people," she said. "You can use the base of that anchor institution to help support the rest of the neighborhood."

Once an asset inventory is conducted to determine which of these elements exist, a detailed, comprehensive plan would need to be developed to move the process forward, Wiederwohl said.

But bringing vitality to the Dixie corridor wouldn't be dependent on the existing elements or on the work of those hopeful for the redevelopment, she noted.

"The city is a piece of this solution," she said.

City officials can help propel the proposal by continuing current efforts aimed at improving multi-modal transportation, securing high-speed Internet connections and facilitating the construction of a Walmart at the corner of 18th Street and Broadway, she said. In addition, city and state governments can offer incentives that make it more attractive to develop in certain areas.

Incentives can help ease the cost of relocating a business or reward a business for hiring from the surrounding community, Wiederwohl said. But, she said, incentives alone won't turn a struggling area in to a vibrant destination.

"You've got to have private capital willing to come in and invest in the area," she said.

For example, businessman Gill Holland played the key role in developing NuLu.

Councilman David James, a Democrat whose district includes parts of the Dixie corridor, said his support hinges on the opinions of the residents who live there. He said the concept — to bring economic vitality to the area — is a great idea.

"But if that is to take place, the citizens that live in that community should be involved," he said.

Councilman David Tandy, a Democrat whose district also includes part of the area, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Calloway said he'd seek support from other council members, including District 1 Democrat Jessica Green. She said if the proposal turns out to be more than just talk, she'd offer her full support.

"I support any and every legitimate concept that has the ability to revitalize and breathe fresh air in to West Louisville," she said.

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.