Louisville’s Smoketown neighborhood no longer has as many places for people to congregate.
Mary Campbell knows this. She’s lived in the area for nearly 35 years. She’s seen the changes.
But with hope, a crusty, two-acre parking lot lined with barbed wire and tall weeds near Finzer and Preston streets will soon be transformed into a place where residents can do just that — come together.
The parcel of land is being donated by Louisville Slugger manufacturer Hillerich & Bradsby Co. to The Community Foundation of Louisville for use as a community space, Mayor Greg Fischer and others announced Monday.
Heather Farrer, a philanthropist helping facilitate the project, said the specifics about what the site will be developed into aren’t yet set. But she said the Community Foundation of Louisville will be looking to turn the now-derelict space into a community-friendly area with green space, a cafe and as many as 20 employment opportunities.
The development will be associated with The Wheelhouse Project, a community revitalization effort aimed at helping longtime Smoketown residents, Farrer said.
The Smoketown neighborhood has among the highest rates of poverty in Metro Louisville.
The property being donated is valued at about $1 million, Hillerich & Bradsby Co. Chairman Jack Hillerich said. It was the site of Louisville Slugger production facilities from 1901 to 1974.
The site has been vacant, collecting trash and transients since the production buildings were shuttered and demolished, Hillerich said. Offers to develop the site have came and gone, but the company was “looking for the right project, and we think this is it,” he said.
The site is also adjacent to the Sheppard Square housing project, which is undergoing a federally funded revitalization. Once completed, Sheppard Square will have nearly 280 rental units and more than 20 home ownership opportunities, said Tim Barry, director of Louisville Metro Housing Authority. That project is expected to be completed by the end of 2016.
Farrer and her husband, Marshall Farrer, along with Dace Brown Stubbs, a Brown-Forman board of directors member, have already contributed $200,000 to the effort to develop the vacant lot.
Farrer said The Community Foundation will begin seeking other funding in the coming months. She said she expects the entire project to cost about $2 million.
Crews will remove the crumbling asphalt and rusted chain link fence and barbed wire that encircle the parcel, she said. Following that, a six-month planning phase will begin. In the meantime, developers will begin seeking comment from Smoketown residents about what they want done with the site.
Campbell said Smoketown needs community spaces. The neighborhood has just one park. And she said the stock of restaurants has been dwindling.
“If you go down Bardstown Road, you can see all kinds of different restaurants you can go to in that neighborhood, and I’d like to see something like that in our neighborhood — where you can sit outside and enjoy yourselves,” she said.
Campbell has some thoughts. She said it needs to be developed into something that can benefit children and senior citizens, most of all.
“I’d like to see that,” she said.