Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Russell Renaissance Part 1

I've been wanting to write this post for a long time. I've written several post on my thoughts for economic development in West Louisville, but this is my first one about just the Russell neighborhood as a whole. It's also the first one where I put a name to the project (and collection of past ideas) I have been working on and/or blogged about.

To my knowledge this is the only economic development article (aside from my earlier post) written about West Louisville in the past 10 years. 10 years. The one that was written in 2001 can be found here and is labeled as the West Louisville Competitive Assessment Study.  The biggest difference between what I have written and what the city did are mainly 2 fold. First, the original study didn't included any residents of West Louisville. Now, there are folks on the original committee who work in West Louisville, but none of them live in West Louisville. Also, from reading the study no effort was made to ask what people in West Louisville wanted. Second, the cities study focus one only 3 types of economic development for the area: Logistics/transportation/distribution, manufacturing, and life science (mainly device manufacturing). There is a little about business development, but the vast majority of the study focuses on the 3 types of development I mentioned previously.

On the service that doesn't seem to bad. After all, as the study points out, West Louisville has a ton of cheap labor, it's close to the expressway, it's close to the river, and it's close to rail service. All we need to do is acquire large parcels of land (which the mayor put in his budget) and give it to the best manufacturer or distribution company and there you go 1,000 of jobs that will pay the average worker anywhere from $8 to $10 an hour. Meanwhile, we will tear large swaths of historic buildings to make way for suburban style warehousing. If you drive down 12th street south of Broadway you will see what the city wants to do. There is the old Porter paint warhouse, Packaging Unlimited warehouse, a Recycling Center, Sud Chemical and other warehouses and light industrial places. When I was a kid that was a neighborhood filled with houses, corner stores and churches. It was vibrant. Now it is a faceless urban industrial park that doesn't employ anybody in the neighborhood except Packaging Unlimited which pays a little above minimum wage.

What I have written is a far cry from what the city wants to do with West Louisville. I want to revitalize the neighborhoods. I want to bring back the mom and pop stores, corner retail, keep the historic and urban character of the neighborhood intact. Basically, bring back what was once there. If you can have this type of retail and development a long East Market street, Bardstown Road, Oak street in Old Louisville, why not Russell? Why does Russell have to be further torn down to make way light industrial, distribution, and warehousing that will not enhance the neighborhood, but give us nothing but low paying dead end jobs? If traditional urban retail development is good enough for east Louisville then it's good enough for Russell.

The other difference, is that I don't treat as a giant area of the city. West Louisville is made up of several distinct and different neighborhoods. What may work in Russell, may not work in California, Portland, Shawnee, Parkland, or Chickasaw. Each neighborhood needs its own development strategy just like Highland's plan is different from NULU's. This is for Russell, but many parts of it can and should be used through West Louisville.

                                                                      The Plan

Artist Relocation Program

Russell has a lot of vacant properties and lots. We also need to increase the amount of home owners as well as increase incomes in the area. You can't have local corner stores or businesses without the residents having enough disposable income to support them. You can try and convince young urban professionals to move to Russell, but thats unlikely to happen in any significant numbers. Russell, Like the rest of West Louisville, has a reputation for high crime. What I suggest is an artist relocation based on the Paducah, Kentucky model. Artist tend to be first movers and are usually more willing to move to distressed area (you can read my original blog post here and here about the program).  The gist of the program that is an artist can prove that they can support themselves with their chosen artist profession, and they are willing to live in the neighborhood for several years then we will give them a house or a vacant lot in which to build a home. The Russell Relocation Program will partner with various banks and the city to help provide the artist with low interest rate loans (to refurbish or build the house/storefront) and a forgivable second mortgage to further help with financing either the rehab or building of the house/storefront.

The Russell Relocation Program will also do everything we can to ensure that artist that move to Russell are as successful as possible. We will do this by being a conduit to firms that provide micro-lending (such as Community Venture Corporation) and organizations that offer business support and development ( such as the Nia Center and The Peer Group) If Paducah can do it then so can we.

The Haymarket

Russell needs a permanent haymarket, preferable on the border of both Russell and Portland. I would love for the haymarket to have an outdoor amphitheater so the neighborhood can hold outdoor concerts, meetings, and be a great gathering spot for local residents. Haymarkets serve as natural small business incubators and development hubs. At most haymarkets small retailers cut their teeth and learn how to run a business. If they are really successful they will either move from the haymarket to a store front or keep both a haymarket booth and a store front. To help facilitate this process we can connect those retailers who want to move up and grow their business with various buisness development organizations that we have connected with for the Russell Relocation Program. Even if the businesses don't want to move up, they still have provided much needed retail and services for the community.

The Quinn

The project that I have been working the hardest on and is the corner stone to Russell's renaissance is the old Quinn Chapel.  I want to turn Quinn Chapel into the Clifton Center of West Louisville. This will be the West Louisville's only performance arts space, but it will much more than that. It will also hold art classes, filmmaking classes, playwriting workshops, costume making workshops, music school and much more. This will also be a venue where you can go and watch plays, concerts, speakers, and much more. The Quinn will once again become the hub of activity for the entire West-End.  


In the late 40's and early 50's Louisville made a serious investment in it's youth and funded boxing gyms for all of it's community centers.  At the time this was scene as a way to get kids off the street and to get them something productive that will also teach them discipline. That investment paid off in late 50's, 60's and 70's when Louisville produced 3 heavyweight champions. Not only did Louisville produce 3 heavyweight champions, but local boxing could be seen every Saturday morning on Tv as well as weekly amateur matches at the convention center. How much money did that generate for the city? How many boxing promoters sprung up in the city? Trainers, graphic artist, boxers, ticket takers, bartenders, and all of the support staff for sporting events? Now, boxing is pretty much dead in Louisville. There is only 1 maybe 2 full time boxing gyms in the city. 

Boxing may be dead or on the decline, but MMA is HUGE is Kentucky. In fact, Kentucky is the 4th most active state in the United States for MMA matches. It would be higher, but the state doesn't have enough people to sanction all of the matches. Why can't Russell be the hub for training the next generation of athletes? 

All it would take would be to convert 1 old firehouse or grocery store into a gym. I know several guys who want to open a gym in Russell, but they need a space that is big enough. We did it once we can do it again.

Reconnecting Russell

Just like the NuLu Connectivity Project, Russell needs to be reconnected with the central business district. Like I wrote in a blog post earlier you can't have a vibrant downtown if you cut off it's surrounding neighborhoods. We need to reconnect Russell to downtown. 


One way to reconnect Russell with not only downtown, but to other neighborhoods is with a street car line. I would like to see a street car line run from one end of Market Street to the other end. In order the keep cost down you can even use the existing track that is buried underneath the asphalt.  In every city that has installed street cars several things have happened. First, along the street car routes investment in businesses and housing has boomed. This will not only be a plus for Russell, Portland, and Shawnee (all three neighborhoods are bounded by Market), but will help downtown tourism by further connecting downtown with all of the new and exciting developments in NuLu and Phoenix hill. 

In Part 2 I'm going to go into a little bit more detail about how all of the parts fit together not only to the rest of West Louisville, but the city as a whole. 


  1. Good ideas Haven for organic growth of the city.
    Shows your knowledge of the neighborhoods. We have
    to get creative and get some local business enterprises that employ people and get money flowing into households. Too bad they sent all the clothing business to India and Bangladesh. The way you move people out of an area is to sell big blocks to single owners--just what you talk about.

  2. I love the Russell Relocation Program and what you want to do with Quinn Chapel. I feel as though the respect for visual and musical art has died. So we who are artist go and try to get 9-5's, Of which stunts our passion to create music, poetry, and visual art. And that in my opinion is one of the things that contribute to the decline of a community. Dreams are being snuffed out by the need to survive. But that's just my opinion.

    Prolific Jones

  3. As always, your ideas are wonderful and creative!

  4. I love ur idea's I specially love the idea of a gym for our youth for boxing! My 15yr old son has recently joined a boxing club in Portland I love it and so does he but the word is not out about how boxing is still such an important part in our history!