Joann Robinson stands under the trestle on Vine Street and Broadway, looking with admiration at the mural she painted back when the neighborhood was called German Paristown.
The mural has since been covered with graffiti and scum, but when it was freshly painted years ago, it read “Coming Together. The words are scrawled in an arc with rainbow colors. Under them is a neatly painted arched building conjoined with houses.
“I drew it and I painted it myself from a little picture,” Robinson says. “I got up there and when I stood back and it was finished, I said, ‘My Lord, it’s evened out perfect, it looks good.”
Robinson was born in the Highlands, but she grew up in the Clarksdale housing projects. She says her mother had the opportunity to get a house in German Paristown, and Robinson has lived in the neighborhood ever since.
Paristown Pointe is only about 50 acres. In October, developers announced a $28 million project they say would transform the area to an arts and culture district. Now, more development appears possible at the Urban Government Center. The 12-acre site at 810 Barret Ave. was mostly vacated after mold and other decay were found.
As of now, city officials say they have no plans for the property. Louisville Metro held “vision workshops” last week to gather input from residents about what should be done with the government-owned buildings.
Options include taking proposals from developers or maintaining ownership and leasing the property over a long period of time.
“We don’t have any plans to transfer title to this property at any point in the foreseeable future,” says Theresa Zawacki, senior policy adviser to Louisville Forward, and one of the people who facilitated the workshops.
She says the city is in the beginning process of deciding what to do with the space and wants to be as transparent as possible.
Change On The Horizon
But with big change comes apprehension.
Some residents of the small enclave don’t trust the process. Others worry about what might follow the first wave of developments there.
Paristown Pointe is also smack in the middle of neighborhoods that are growing in new ways: Phoenix Hill, Smoketown, the Original Highlands and Germantown. All are close to downtown, and all are seeing spikes in new investment and development.
“My concern would be that is this going to be another development where it ends up being mostly a bunch of bars. Bars are not family-friendly,” says Richard Graef, who attended the workshop.
While some don’t mind turning the area into an arts and culture hub, some, including Graef, are afraid it could become another Baxter Avenue.
Arts-based revitalization efforts are common, experts say.
“We think of it as a component of successful and vibrant and healthy places,” says Kelly Kinahan, a professor at the University of Louisville. She focuses on neighborhood revitalization, historic preservation and economic development.
Kinahan attended one of the workshops.
“For anything there’s always critiques of the process, of the approach,” she says. “I think arts and culture can be viewed as more of an elitist activity, so it’s a question of whether this is something the neighborhood wants or more for outside visitors and tourists and those types of questions. And whether it’s a good economic return.”
Not only are some apprehensive; there’s also sentimentality attached to the facility at 810 Baxter Ave.
“I was born in this hospital, and I don’t mind saying on Jan. 15, 1957, and my mother graduated from the Kentucky Baptist School of Nursing here as a cadet nurse in 1946,” says Barbara Sexton Smith.
The incoming Metro Councilwoman from District 4, which includes Paristown Pointe, also attended the workshops. And yes, the now-clunky buildings once included a hospital and training ground for nurses.
“I think people are so attached to this property because the original building is a beautiful piece of architecture,” she says.
Sal Rubino, owner of The Cafe on Brent Street, remembers when he told people he wanted to buy the property for the restaurant back in 2005.
“You’re gonna make this a restaurant?” was his realtor’s reaction to the cavernous warehouse at 712 Brent St. Rubino bought the building for $265,000 in 2005.
“The sidewalk themselves were dilapidated and broken,” he says. “The area, which is now our parking lot, was partially a gravel lot.”
Now, Rubino says his property is assessed at almost $1 million.
Robinson, who painted the mural, and her friend Debbie Hoblitzell, met at Rubino’s cafe on a recent busy Friday afternoon. Robinson says it’s her favorite place for lunch.
“I know this sounds silly, but I’d like to see the replica of the Eiffel Tower built here,” says Robinson. “And a 21c Museum inside of that. With offices, with salons and a gym and things that the neighborhood can use, too.”
She has big ideas for the future of this neighborhood. Hoblitzell, also a longtime resident, wants something on a smaller scale.
”Not a hotel,” Hoblitzell says. “I’d like to see no more housing built in the area. I’d love to have some sort of a green space. If there were a library, an art gallery, possibly artist studios.”
Not surprisingly, people in the neighborhood have a gazillion ideas for what they’d like to see. But most have a common thread: They want a place that feels like a community in a neighborhood surrounded by change.