As far back as 1980, there have been efforts to build a botanical garden within the pre-merger Louisville city limits. This week, that dream will finally come to fruition with the groundbreaking of the Waterfront Botanical Gardens at the intersection of Frankfort Avenue and River Road.
But if you look at the site’s history, a multi-million dollar garden probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
According to Kasey Maier, the executive director of Waterfront Botanical Gardens, it used to be part of a 19th-century neighborhood called “The Point.”
“That neighborhood was continuously flooded in the ‘37 Flood and then there was another flood in the early 1940s,” Maier says. “And then the city shut it down and turned it into a landfill.”
From the 1940s to about 1980, the site was an active landfill, which was eventually capped with 30 feet of dirt; it has sat vacant — with the dirt settling — ever since.
That is, until now.
Maier says the land has been tested, and after about a decade of fundraising, it’s ready for the development of the first phase of the Waterfront Botanical Gardens. This phase — which includes a family education center and educational gardens — will cost about $5.8 million.
Maier says the educational components are particularly important to the mission of the project. In addition to being a tourist draw, the aim is also to teach families about environmental responsibility.
Maier likens it to giving a child a potted plant.
“And you say, ‘If you take care of this, you can eat the fruit from this plant,’” Maier says. “Obviously, they are excited. But all of the sudden, they have to worry about the environment of that plant. They have to worry about the clean soil, the clean water that goes into it. The air that goes into it, the sunshine.”
The Waterfront Botanical Gardens will be a place, she says, to teach area kids those lessons.
The estimated total cost of the full build-out of the project is roughly $50 million, which Maier anticipates taking about 10 years. She says that may sound like a long time, but Maier points out that Waterfront Park took about 25 years of development to reach its current state.
The Waterfront Botanical Gardens groundbreaking will take place on Friday, September 15.