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City weighing tax incentive for project on old Urban Government Center site

The Paristown Preservation Trust wants to take over the site of long-vacant government buildings and is asking for a tax incentive to make its plans possible.
Jacob Munoz
The Paristown Preservation Trust wants to take over the site of long-vacant government buildings and is asking for a tax incentive to make its plans possible.

A Louisville developer wants to create housing and office space on land where former government buildings waste away. City lawmakers will decide whether to allow the group to recoup millions of potential tax dollars.

Since 2017, Louisville Metro Government has worked with developers to try revitalizing the vacant Urban Government Center property in the Paristown Pointe neighborhood.

But its first two agreements, made separately with the Marian Group and Underhill Associates, fell through.

The city is now looking to secure progress on its third deal with Paristown Preservation Trust. In an estimated $249 million project, the developer says it expects to create approximately:

  • 440 units of apartments or condos
  • 20 cottage homes
  • 100 rooms and five rooftop condos in a hotel
  • 165,000 square feet of office and commercial space
  • 850 parking spaces in a parking garage
  • And public green space

City lawmakers approved a rezoning request for the 11.7-acre site last year. Now, the developer wants them to support a tax-increment financing (TIF) district to help pay for costs.

The company could recover up to $20.3 million of the site’s future property taxes over 20 years. However, developers would have to increase the property value to get paid for the project.

Brian Forrest, a member of the development team, described the incentive as a reasonable tool to transform the “blighted” site.

“Unless we spend the money, we're not getting part of this TIF,” Forrest said. “...It only helps us do what we really want to do.”

Steve Smith, Paristown Preservation Trust’s managing partner, declined an interview.

“At this time, we believe it is appropriate to remain steadfast and quiet as the TIF ordinance process moves forward,” said Jeanne Hilt, a spokesperson for Smith.

Louisville Metro Council members will have to pass an ordinance approving the TIF for it to be established. It’s being considered in the council’s labor, economic development and appropriations committee, which will next meet on May 7.

Committee chair Phillip Baker represents District 6, where the property is located. While the Democrat is listed as the bill’s sponsor, he said that’s a formality because it’s connected to his district and committee, and that he hasn’t made up his mind on the TIF.

“I just want to make the most informed decision that's going to be for the greater good of the neighborhood,” Baker said.

Residents in west Louisville recently filed a lawsuit to stop a separate tax incentive plan. The West End TIF is tasked with reinvesting money into local redevelopment through new housing and business subsidies.

Frustrated neighbors

As a part of the TIF process, Louisville Metro Government held a public meeting last Thursday to gather feedback on the development agreement. The event shed light on some residents’ grievances around the project and the yearslong wait for progress.

Some Paristown Pointe residents said they felt the community has become more unsafe with a large abandoned site, and support moving the project ahead.

Those opposed to the plan offered several criticisms, including doubt over the need to demolish most of the site’s buildings and concern about the environmental impact of new development.

Louisville Metro Government vacated the Urban Government Center in 2016, and has struggled to redevelop the Paristown Point neighborhood site.
Jacob Munoz
Louisville Metro Government vacated the Urban Government Center in 2016, and has struggled to redevelop the Paristown Point neighborhood site.

John Gonder, president of the German-Paristown Neighborhood Association, said earlier in the week that he didn’t believe adding office space was reasonable while downtown towers struggle to attract tenants.

“You could better use the city's investment here by giving it to this developer to funnel that office use downtown and revitalize downtown,” Gonder said.

He added that he’s concerned about the effect a major development could have on residents struggling with rising property values.

“They shouldn't have to move because they can't pay their taxes,” Gonder said.

Forrest, with the development group, said efforts have gone on long enough at the site, and that his team is just trying to help the community.

“We're not looking to be, you know, [the] big, bad developer by any means. And we want to do what's right for the neighborhood and the city of Louisville,” he said.

The city and developer have to enter into a community benefits agreement with “surrounding neighborhood associations,” according to their development deal. An exact number of associations required to sign it isn’t included.

While five groups are listed on a draft of the agreement, only the Paristown Pointe Neighborhood Association has signaled it will support it.

A project advisory group with representatives from each association has been helping craft the agreement. Its leaders said in a statement earlier this month that negotiations have mainly stalled over adding a public playground and green space on the site.

The group also called for the city government to reject any signed agreement that isn’t approved by all five neighborhoods.

Jeff O’Brien, executive director of Louisville’s Cabinet of Economic Development, said the city isn’t taking a stance on the number of groups it needs.

“We've not determined that or had a legal opinion about how many groups have to sign, or even made a decision on how many we think as appropriate. We'd like to have all of them sign it,” O’Brien said.

Baker, the local Metro Council member, also said he wants more neighborhood associations to reach an agreement.

“There are going to probably be people who are upset either way,” Baker said. “But…I think everybody in the neighborhood can agree that they want to see something, [rather] than a dilapidated property.”

Forrest said he is not opposed to adding a playground to the site and hopes the whole city can take advantage of the site once the project is completed.

This story has been updated.

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

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