Community

Plans for a $53 million local food hub in West Louisville have been canceled.

Developers behind the West Louisville FoodPort say the financing model for the project has fallen apart. According to Stephen Reily, who leads the nonprofit development group Seed Capital Kentucky, the decision comes after FarmedHere, an anchor tenant that planned to build a $23 million indoor vertical farm, backed out.

The Courier-Journal first reported the news Wednesday night.

The project slated for a 24-acre site at the corner of 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard was intended to spur the local food economy and bring new jobs and economic activity to West Louisville. It was a key part of Mayor Greg Fischer’s revitalization plans for the city’s western neighborhoods.

Caroline Heine, project director for Seed Capital, said half the square footage of the first phase of the FoodPort was devoted to FarmedHere. She said the Chicago-based company is undergoing a corporate reorganization and backed out during the final design stage of the project.

“This was never an ‘if you build it they will come’ project, and proceeding without committed tenants would not honor our commitment to the community to bring both economic sustainability and new jobs to West Louisville,” Heine said.

The developers are planning to deed the land back to the city, Reily said. Metro government sold the plot to Seed Capital for $1. The land is valued at nearly $1.6 million.

Seed Capital had already invested $2.7 million in design and other elements of the project.

Reily told WFPL Wednesday he is “incredibly sad” about the project’s demise.

“Without a sufficient tenant base, the project is simply no longer economically viable,” he said. “As a nonprofit developer, we have aimed to set a new model for transparency and engagement. We have kept listening to our neighbors, and we are proud to have built a platform for leadership among so many people from Russell, Shawnee and Portland.”

With the FoodPort, Reily and Seed Capital sought to reimagine the local food cycle by creating a single public space where food could be grown, harvested, processed, sold and then consumed. The hub was designed to serve as a place to promote local and regional foods, and to educate the public on how and why to eat local.

It was also positioned as a major economic development tool for West Louisville. As part of a development agreement signed with Metro government in March, FoodPort organizers and Fischer said the project would create 200 permanent jobs.

But the project encountered resistance among some in West Louisville.

Last year, Seed Capital canceled plans for an anaerobic digester — which converts food waste into methane gas — after community outrage bubbled over in a series of public meetings and statements.

And last week, the project encountered a new round of skepticism after The Courier-Journal reported that Fischer’s administration was seeking to use a $7 million federal loan dating back to 1995 — and intended to spur economic growth in West Louisville — for the FoodPort.

In a statement, Fischer said the proposed project would still leave the city better off.

“Whatever happens with the FoodPort, this work has added value to this site, to community discourse about responsible redevelopment, and to our understanding of how to grow the local food economy,” he said.

Stephen George is Executive Editor of Louisville Public Media.