The Louisville Metro Council approved an ordinance that will allow the city to purchase the Colonial Gardens property by a 16-3 vote.
Mayor Greg Fischer asked lawmakers in April to allocate $430,000 to buy the historic South End property, which was the site of Louisville’s first zoo and is now owned by an out-of-state trust.
For over a decade the structure has been idle and vacant, due in part to its out-of-state owners and historic preservation status.
City lawmakers were initially hesitant about the idea, and sought more information about the viability for private development. But its easy passage means the mayor can now move forward and sell Colonial Gardens to a developer.
“When running for office I promised my constituents I would work to develop the property. I am appreciative of the mayor and his economic development team for being such great partners as we continue to improve south Louisville together,” says Councilman David Yates, D-25, who supported the ordinance. “While it has been a bumpy road we are very excited about the commitment to this shared goal.”
Fischer administration officials have said at least three development companies have expressed interest in renovating the site.
The city will now exercise its option to buy the property this month with the hope of having an agreement by the end of July. Supporters point out any development contract will come back to the council for approval, but opponents are still wary about the details.
“I support the efforts to bring economic development to the Iroquois park area, but I have great concerns that without appropriate oversight and written taxpayer protections our community is being asked to be a 50-50 partner on a project in which we will have zero opportunity to see our funds returned,” says Councilman Jerry Miller, R-19, who voted against the ordinance.
Miller says only a handful of council members have read the “request for proposal” drawn up by the city, adding he wanted to attach ownership requirements and other protections to return any taxpayer money if developers make a profit.
There are provisions saying that prior to the transfer of the property whether by gift, loan or lease it must come back to the council’s Budget Committee for approval. The legislation also speaks to barring against “unjust enrichment” of the developer to the detriment of taxpayer, according to Democratic caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt.
This is the second time Fischer has proposed buying land to spur development. Earlier this year, the city spent $1.2 million to buy a 30-acre site in west Louisville to create jobs.