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Louisville Community Foundation’s Smoketown land gift could lead to grocery store, affordable housing

The Community Foundation of Louisville has held the vacant Smoketown property since 2015.
Jacob Munoz
LPM News
The Community Foundation of Louisville has held the vacant Smoketown property since 2015.

The Community Foundation of Louisville (CFL) is gifting two acres of property worth nearly $1 million in the Smoketown neighborhood to two local nonprofits.

The vacant lot is located two blocks south of Broadway Avenue, between Preston Street and Jackson Street.

At a press conference at the lot on Wednesday morning, CFL announced Rebuilding Our Urban Neighborhood Dwellings (REBOUND, Inc.) and the Louisville Association for Community Economics (LACE) were the two recipients. Representatives for the organizations said REBOUND, Inc. plans to use the property to establish affordable housing units, while LACE will create a grocery co-op.

A press release detailing the recipients was available on the CFL’s website on Tuesday, but was taken down after a reporter contacted the foundation for comment.

Speaking at the event, CFL’s Vice President of Equity and Impact Ramona Dallum said REBOUND, Inc. now holds one acre of the property, on the west side, while LACE owns the eastern acre next to Jackson.

Dallum said CFL sought residents’ opinions in determining the future of the land, including through community meetings. At one point, she said, plans involved converting the property to a green space and community center, but when those didn’t materialize CFL took a new direction based on feedback.

“We understand it is nice to have beautiful parks and community centers in a neighborhood. But a community's daily survival depends on access to healthy food and affordable housing. When food and shelter are missing, it's hard to think about relaxing,” Dallum said.

REBOUND, Inc. is an affordable housing development group. In late 2020, Mayor Greg Fischer announced the nonprofit would be looking to establish a community land trust.

Community land trusts aim to keep housing prices low by buying property and offering long-term leases, such as for 99 years, for the homes built on that land.

The group’s executive director, Kevin Dunlap, said Black residents have been struggling to stay in Smoketown, which is Louisville’s oldest historically Black neighborhood.

“We're talking about African American people who, for a long time, have invested their hard times, sweat and effort into these neighborhoods, only to find themselves in a position at this point where it's no longer affordable for them to stay in those particular neighborhoods,” Dunlap said.

LACE promotes cooperative businesses and has been working to build the Louisville Community Grocery. In the grocery’s proposed structure model, workers and shoppers can become owners who receive dividends through its revenue.

Joseph Olusegun Bowens, the co-executive director of LACE, said his organization wants to provide job opportunities and healthy food options through the grocery. They are now focused on fundraising and finding residents interested in becoming owners.

“We have a goal of 2,000 owners, and currently right now we're a little over 500. So we need to make sure we get to that goal,” Bowens said.

The group was previously working with the Louisville Metro Government to realize the grocery through government funding, but that agreement fell through.

In explaining CFL’s choice of the two nonprofits, Dallum acknowledged neither group has previously run a community land trust or grocery store. But she said lack of experience didn’t deter her support.

“For me, that is the greatest advantage of this decision. We are allowing space for these two organizations to prove what is possible when community leaders are fully resourced to imagine, collaborate and try,” she said.

Dallum added that CFL will provide additional cash grants to REBOUND, Inc. and LACE for the next five years to put toward their projects on the gifted property.

The Smoketown lot was donated by the Hillerich & Bradsby Company to the Community Foundation in 2015 for use as a community space. It was the site of Louisville Slugger production facilities for over 70 years, until 1974.

This story was updated on June 15, 2022, to include new details about this donation from the Community Foundation of Louisville and the recipients, and to clarify LACE's work with the Louisville Community Grocery.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.