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Louisville’s Belvedere is on track for a multimillion-dollar renovation

Louisville leaders are looking to transform the city's Belvedere space, which connects downtown to the Ohio River and features a statue of George Rogers Clark.
Jacob Munoz
Louisville leaders are looking to transform the city's Belvedere space, which connects downtown to the Ohio River and features a statue of George Rogers Clark.

Mayor Craig Greenberg’s administration wants to revitalize Riverfront Plaza, also known as the Belvedere, in downtown Louisville. The city now has millions in local and state dollars for the project, but officials haven’t shared specifics on what that money will do.

A statue of George Rogers Clark, a Revolutionary War general, stands proud at downtown Louisville’s Belvedere park. His head looks sideways, and he points north at the Ohio River, which he led an army down during the war effort.

The river today gives charm to the Belvedere, a plaza dedicated more than 50 years ago that spans over six acres. It’s home to Worldfest, an annual international celebration, and was previously the site of the Juneteenth Festival before this year.

The large space stretches across multiple levels of elevation. Much of it is paved, with trees lining some sections and areas covered with grass. It attracts the occasional tourists like Cameron and Collin Woods, two brothers visiting from the St. Louis area. On a scorching weekend in June, they wandered into the Belvedere, “surprised by how big” the space is.

“I thought it might be a part of the [Galt House] hotel, but [I’m] definitely pleasantly surprised,” Collin said.

“You get to learn the history of the Ohio River, which is really cool,” Cameron said.

But the Woods brothers found the area by accident, not by design.

“It’s just kind of barren, more toward the edge where you can see out to the river. [There’s just], not a lot up there,” Cameron said.

At least some city leaders agree that changes are needed.

The Louisville Downtown Partnership released a plan earlier this year suggesting how to improve the central business district, and described the Belvedere as “undervalued.”

“While still hosting major events and offering unparalleled views of the Ohio River, it often lacks daily users, leaving the vast space underutilized,” the plan states.

Over the past year, Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg has asked state lawmakers and Metro Council members for funding to transform the space. He’s been successful so far, though public details for the site have yet to be released.

A future “focal point?”

This spring, the Kentucky Legislature authorized $100 million for six Louisville projects in and near downtown, including a reimagined Belvedere. And last week, Metro Council members approved the upcoming city budget, which includes $10 million for the redesign, down from Greenberg’s $15 million request.

Kevin Trager, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, said that details for the project were still being worked out, and declined to make Greenberg available for an interview.

But he said the city would start looking for community feedback on the Belvedere “in the coming weeks.” Trager added that the exact amount of state funding is not yet known, because the city is working to finalize an agreement with the commonwealth.

The Belvedere's entrance leads into 5th Street in downtown Louisville.
Jacob Munoz
The Belvedere's entrance leads into 5th Street in downtown Louisville.

The project has also caught the attention of Deborah Bilitski, the president and executive director of the Waterfront Development Corporation.

Her organization has worked on building Waterfront Park along Louisville’s side of the Ohio River, including an ongoing expansion project to the west, and Bilitski said the Belvedere has been a valuable way to get people to the green space.

“Over the years as we have developed Waterfront Park, just given the geographic constraints that we have with [Interstate 64], it isn't necessarily easy for people to get to the waterfront,” she said.

Bilitski said her organization used to manage events at the Belvedere before it was taken over by Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation. But she noted that they stay in “close communication” with the department over the site and were invited to a stakeholder meeting in the past year about the project.

“I would love to see the Belvedere serve as a center point, or focal point, that connects downtown to the river and the various ends of Waterfront Park from east to west,” Bilitski said.

Envisioned designs still unknown

Last year, Louisville leaders allocated $150,000 in the city’s budget to create and implement a “Belvedere Master Plan.” Officials awarded the project to K Norman Berry Associates, a local architecture firm, and days later Mayor Greenberg toured the site with London-based Heatherwick Studio.

However, there’s no public design plan yet.

That concerned Jennifer Chappell, who represents District 15 on Metro Council. In meetings, she has questioned the lack of information during the city’s budget process.

She said earlier this month that she thinks renovating the Belvedere is necessary, and that it’s not used for enough events.

“I think that it's an interesting space, but it's absolutely outdated. And especially right there on our waterfront, it has so much potential, and it is not reaching it,” Chappell said.

Chappell said she wasn’t comfortable approving funding for the project — which at the time was a $15 million request — without a total cost estimate or public plans. But the council unanimously passed it as part of the city’s capital budget, and specific line items can’t be voted separately on.

“It's not that I want to nitpick the design. But I think that they, the administration, or whoever wants to claim responsibility for this project, really needs to dangle that carrot and say, ‘Hey, this is our vision, and this is what we're working towards,’” Chappell said.

Metro Council’s decision to reduce funding to $10 million for the Belvedere redesign also removed renovations to 4th Street in downtown Louisville as part of that allocation.

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

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