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AMPED won't get federal funds for land deal benefiting ex-Louisville police chief

Vacant building on 1700 block West Market
Jacob Ryan
The 1700 block of West Market Street where AMPED is planning to build its training center.

Louisville will not reimburse the nonprofit AMPED for land it purchased earlier this year in the West End. The organization paid more than three times the land’s assessed value and a former chief of police profited off the sale.

The land deal would have been part of a $40 million federal grant awarded to the Louisville Healthcare CEO Council last year.

The city set aside $9 million of that funding for AMPED, a music and job training nonprofit, to build and run an 18,000-square-foot tech training center in west Louisville. AMPED founder Dave Christopher Sr. then went looking for a suitable location, settling on some parcels on West Market Street. The nonprofit paid more than $309,000 for the land, hoping to get reimbursed from the city. But now, that’s not happening.

The larger grant became embroiled in an ethics scandal, and Mayor Craig Greenberg revoked the grant. The CEO Council, AMPED and the other nonprofits that were part of the project had until late November to ask for reimbursement for money they already spent.

Greenberg’s spokesperson Kevin Trager said Tuesday that the city never received the proper documentation to compensate AMPED for the land purchase.

“Earlier this year, the CEOc did submit a reimbursement request on behalf of AMPED for those real estate purchases, however it was missing several pieces of information that are required by the federal government,” he said.

Trager said the CEO Council and its partners failed to provide the city with a current market purchase appraisal for the land deal. He said they also failed to provide documentation showing the lots were vacant at the time of the sale and that they had clean titles.

That means AMPED is now on the hook for the money it spent on the land — land the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting found it bought for three times the assessed value. KyCIR also reported that former Louisville interim police chief Yvette Gentry was one of the sellers who profited off the sale.

Christopher did not respond to interview requests this week. Earlier this year, he declined to discuss details of the land purchase with KyCIR, which is also part of Louisville Public Media.

Following KyCIR’s reporting, AMPED issued a statement denying allegations there was anything wrong with the deal.

“[Christopher and Gentry] are individuals who’ve invested their own personal dollars into initiatives that uplift the Black community…” AMPED said in the August statement. “Suggesting that corruption and profiting is at the heart of their motives is unfair and simply incorrect.”

The nonprofit also criticized LPM for not addressing the larger forces that affect how land is valued in historically Black communities, like west Louisville. It pointed to national research by the Brookings Institution, which found that property assessments are lower in Black neighborhoods and “only some of this effect can be explained by physical characteristics and neighborhood amenities.”

It did not offer evidence that those factors played a role in this specific transaction. But Gentry told KyCIR she could have sold the land for more than double what AMPED paid.

“Easy,” she said.

AMPED was one of a handful of nonprofits that partnered with the Healthcare CEO Council on the original $40 million workforce development proposal. The coalition was awarded the grant a year ago, but the CEO Council’s relationship with Republican Metro Council Member Anthony Piagentini sank the project.

The Louisville Metro Ethics Commission recently found Piagentini violated city ethics rules, saying he negotiated a job with the CEO Council while supporting their bid for funding. His fellow council members recently initiated removal proceedings against him.

In the months since Greenberg canceled the $40 million grant, city officials have debated how to spend the COVID-19 relief. Greenberg proposed a plan to shift the bulk of the money — which comes from Louisville’s $388 million pot of American Rescue Plan funds, meant to help cities recover economically from the pandemic — to library renovations and deferred maintenance to public parks.

The remaining funding, roughly $16 million, would be split up between AMPED and other nonprofits to keep the original workforce development project alive in some form, Greenberg proposed. This time, the Healthcare CEO Council would not be part of the coalition.

AMPED and the other nonprofits involved in the new, smaller project were asked to submit scaled-down requests.

Trager said AMPED told city officials it would not ask to be reimbursed for the land deal in its new proposal.

“You can report that the city will not be providing any reimbursements to AMPED for those purchases,” he said.

Metro Council set to vote on reallocation

Metro Council members will vote Thursday night on how to spend the COVID-19 relief funds clawed back from the CEO Council. The plan has changed from what Greenberg proposed in October.

Members of the council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee expressed concerns in recent weeks about whether the $16 million Greenberg wanted to set aside for the scaled-down workforce development project would be enough to accomplish something meaningful.

AMPED and the other nonprofits involved in the project submitted new proposals to the city, totaling roughly $25 million. That means there was a $9 million gap between what they requested and what the Greenberg administration was willing to give them.

At the committee meeting last week, Christopher told Metro Council members that AMPED and the other nonprofits felt they weren’t consulted enough about the final allocations, which are lower than what they requested. He said they felt like organizations were being asked to “battle” for a smaller pool of money.

Committee members then voted to increase the funding for the workforce development project from $16 million to $20 million.

In its new proposal, AMPED said it plans to recruit and train 340 unemployed and underemployed residents, placing 213 of the training program graduates in technology jobs. They also want to train 40 high school students who will be placed in paid apprenticeship programs. All of the people AMPED plans to recruit are west Louisville residents, according to its project proposal.

The other nonprofits involved in the project are Metro United Way, Louisville Urban League, the University of Louisville and ElderServe. Each has its own proposed program. For example, Metro United Way plans to provide financial coaching to 250 people with the goal of having 60% reach financial stability.

The additional funding for workforce development funding came out of the proposed money for parks maintenance, which Metro Council members cut from Greenberg’s proposed $13 million down to $9 million. The $10 million in additional funding for library renovations remains unchanged.

Jacob Ryan contributed reporting.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.