Friday, June 22, 2012

Revitalizing West Louisville pt 2

In part one of my series on revitalizing west Louisville I talked about micro-lending and bringing back the forgivable second mortgage. These are two things that can be done relatively quickly to stabilized some of the neighborhoods in westren Louisville. This fix will not work overnight, but it would be a good start. That was part 1. In part 2 I want to lay out the framework for west Louisville's renaissance.

If you are going to revitalize a city, or a large section of the city, you need a plan and you need to work your plan. The plan has to aspirational and realistic at the same time. It should also build on what the area/city has traditionally done well and expand on it. More importantly it has to be geared towards the future. The plan has to put you slightly ahead of the curve to maximize growth potential. You don't want to bank on old style manufacturing that most likely is not coming back from China. You also don't want to place all of your bets to far ahead of the curve because it could be several decades before you see the fruits of your labor if at all. Lastly you have to be willing to try something, fail, and then try something else. This last point is the most important. You have to keep trying. We in Louisville, for the longest time, gave up on whole sections of the county. Not just west Louisville, but southwest Jefferson Co. as well. Now it's beginning to catch up with us. Let's change that.

Like any economic development plan I want to focus on several core industries I think we can really exploit to help revitalize west Louisville. They would be: Film/TV/entertainment production, Organic food/ "Green" industries, Sports, Keeping the Promise, and logistics.


This might be a head scratcher to some folks, but if you've read any of my past post from the Russell neighborhood blog site you know that I am a big fan of Louisville's potential here. This is such a natural fit for the city and west Louisville. What makes this such a natural fit for west louisville ( and in Louisville in particular) is that we already have the foundation built. The feeder system is already in place. We have several performing arts schools in YPAS, Lincoln Elementary and Western middle. The University of Louisville has the African American Theater program which is the only place in the country where you can get a masters in African American Theater and Simmons College is starting a film school. The only thing that is missing is direction. We need a west/Louisville film commission to get everybody on the same page and to come up with a coherent strategy.

The great thing about the film industry is that this industry is expected to expand in the next couple of years, and Louisville has proven that it can make films. In the early to mid 70's There were several films made in Louisville including Abby (the black exorcist), Sheba Baby staring Pam Grier, and several more. Currently Louisville is home to Hart-Lunsford Pictures. This is something that we can definitely do.  However, if we do this we need to focus on more than just feature films. There also needs to be a focus on the internet only productions, plays, and the arts in general.

It will be hard for Louisville to compete with other cities in attracting big hollywood productions. We just don't have the talent currently to compete on a consistant basis. Louisville may have a ton of actors, but we don't have the grips, cameramen and the like. This will take time to build. But we can jump the start process.

We need to copy what Paducah, KY has done to attract artist. Paducah $2500 reimbursement for any design or renovation cost involved with the purchase of certain properties, plus 100% financing for the  purchase or renovation of an existing structure or the building of a new structure. They also give land for and dilapidated houses for $1 to help relocate artist. West Louisville needs to copy the Paducah artist relocation program. West Louisville has a ton of empty houses and vacant lots. We could copy the Paducah program and enhance it with the forgivable second mortgage I mention above and the micro-lending program. The city could also work with local businesses and start a venture club for the arts industry.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Revitalizing West Louisville pt 1

I've written several articles about how I think we could revitalize west Louisville. You can read some of my past post here, here, here, and here. I wrote most of those blog post in 2009 so I think it might be time for update.

I know the city is broke and we can't invest a ton of money, but like most revitalization efforts it will take some investment. The city has realized this and Mayor Fischer has set aside $500,000 to assemble land in west Louisville for "development" I say development in quotation marks because I'm afraid it will be just another way to build a suburban style warehousing project in west Louisville. A project that wil detract from the urban nature of west Louisville and provide nothing but low income jobs. While jobs are a good thing you need more than just dead-end jobs. Where's the plan for the overall development of west Louisville?

I've spoken to enough folks in GLI to know that they basically view west Louisville as a great place for warehouses, light industry, and manufacturing. They very rarely mention anything about local mom and pop businesses, corner retail, and the types of small businesses you see up and down Bardstown Rd, East Market St, and Frankfort Ave. Those are the types of businesses we need. We have to build a strong urban fabric.

What we need in west Louisville is plan. We can have light industry and warehousing, but we also need the type of retail and commercial density found on Bardstown Rd and East Market. Like I said, I've written about economic development before. When I do I like to break my ideas into 3 parts. Things you can do in the near term (1-5 years), mid-term (5-10 years) and long term (10-20 years). I'm a firm believer that you have to look into the future and see where theres are going so you can get ahead of the curve. If you build a economic development plan on things are now, or what you did 100 years ago you are bound to fail.  Louisville is still trying to be the city it was 20-100 years ago. We want to be the logistics hub and manufacturing center of the mid south. Now we are trying to be the bio-med capital of the mid south. That's great and all, but most manufacturing is done in China and Mexico. Logistics is great if you want a ton of jobs that pay on average $9-11 an hour. You can't build a vibrant economy if most of your population is below the poverty line. Bio-med is also great and can build great wealth. But that wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few scientist and medical investors.  You also need a top notch research university to attract, keep, and foster bio-med. UL is a great university, but it can;t compete with the established heavyweights. At least not with the funding it gets from the state of Kentucky.

My ideas are also interconnected. One builds off of another. If you just did one without the other I think you can still have a tremendous impact on west Louisville, however, if done as a whole it would be a game changer. So, here's my plan:

To keep this post from becoming a book I'm going break it up into several parts and try be as concise as possible.

1) Micro-lending. Instead of spending $500, 000 to buy land to give to a developer to build another suburban style warehouse why not put that money into a micro-lending program to start small businesses, re-hab foreclosed/abandoned properties, or for home-owners to improve their properties.

The problems most businesses face in getting started is funding. A lot of businesses could use a small infusion of cash to get started. A micro-lending program that gave loans from $1000-5000 would do the trick. Of course you wouldn't just loan everybody the money. The soon-to-be business owners would have to go through classes on how to run a business and the program could even provide mentors for the businesses once they are started. If the city didn't want to run such a program they could set aside the money for a public private partnership with companies like Community Venture Corporation. 

I also talked about giving the money to re-hab foreclosed/abandoned properties and like. More on that later.

2) Bring back the forgivable second mortgage.  If you are going to have businesses in west Louisville then you are going to need people that have disposable income.  You also need to stabilize neighborhoods. Building nothing but new Section 8 housing in west Louisville is not going to stabilize it. You need middle income folks with middle class incomes to do that. Bringing back the $20,000 forgivable second mortgage is a way to entice people to move to west Louisville.  However, there needs to be changes made to the program. In the past you had to have a new home to qualify. The new program has to be for new homes or old homes as well. If you can buy an existing home and re-hab it you should qualify as well.  We need to keep as much of the old housing stock as possible.

Stay tuned for part 2