Louisville breaks ground on West End Waterfront Park expansion
State and city officials broke ground Monday on the expansion of Waterfront Park into Louisville’s West End, an accomplishment city leaders say helps to bridge the geographic racial divide that separates the city.
The westward expansion plan adds 22 acres of park space to Louisville’s riverfront in traditionally Black neighborhoods between 10th and 14th streets. The project features a playground, event space, restrooms and parking along the waterfront across from Shippingport Island and the Falls of the Ohio underneath U.S. Interstate 64.
“This $50 million project will unite our city across the Ninth Street divide. It will bring Waterfront Park’s world class amenities to more than 12,000 residents of our West End neighborhoods and will attract visitors from throughout the region and beyond,” Waterfront Park Executive Director Deborah Bilitski said.
More than three decades ago, Waterfront Development Corporation embarked on a project to convert Louisville’s riverfront from a maze of junkyards and chain link fences into a community amenity. Today, the park attracts more than 2.2 million visitors each year.
Bilitski said the Waterfront Park’s fourth phase has already secured $26 million in funds from the city, state, nonprofits and individual donors. She said future funding will be used to complete an observation pier and outdoor exercise and picnic areas.
Mayor Greg Fischer said the latest expansion project will build on the park’s success and help to unite the city across the so-called “Ninth Street divide" -- a geographical marker that has often been used to represent segregation in Louisville.
“I hate that term because it’s a psychological barrier for so many people,” he said. “So we’re going to destroy that divide.”
Fischer said in his time in office Louisville has invested $1.4 billion in the West End. He highlighted his strategy to develop four anchors around the neighborhood of Russell: the redevelopment of Beecher Terrace, the Norton Healthcare Sports and Learning Center, the city’s newest YMCA and now, the expansion of Waterfront Park.
“Close your eyes for a minute and dream what this is going to be like when we are back here two years, three years, when the whole park is laid out before us,” Fischer said. “So instead, now, of seeing a pile of dirt, you are going to see thousands of people here.”
The expansion of the park is the culmination of a decade of work that began when former Metro Council Member Cheri Bryant Hamilton, secured city funds for a master plan back in 2013. Hamilton sat in the front at the press conference and received a round of applause for the work she did representing her district.
“I grew up across the street from the Ohio River in the West End and we used to have access to the river, but then the river got closed off,” she said.
Hamilton said the expansion of the park in conjunction with new boat ramps in the West End help to bridge the divide, bring people closer together and closer to the river.
One resident, who declined to give his first name but said his last name was Walters, sat in on the press conference and said that as long as everyone benefits, the park would be an appealing space to enjoy the scenic views of the Ohio River.
“I mean we’ll see how the project plays out. I think it’s a beautiful thing for anything to be an additive,” Walters said.
Elmer Lucille Allen, 91, said she grew up in a segregated community where she could not go to school with white people. Allen, a noted chemist and ceramics artist, said the expansion of the park helps to unify the city.
“It has to start somewhere. You start with zero to move forward,” Allen said.