A vacant lot off Dixie Highway in Louisville’s South End is likely to remain undeveloped for now, after a nonprofit scrapped plans for a tiny home village and sold the land back to its original owner.
The nonprofit Veteran’s Club began working on plans in late 2019 to provide 27 tiny homes for homeless veterans at 7600 Stuart Ave. Developer Chris Thieneman had donated the land to the group.
The tiny home village, dubbed Camp Restoration, would have been more than just shelter: Plans included a barbershop, a satellite banking center and a 12-month program designed to integrate residents back into the community.
Veteran’s Club CEO Jeremy Harrell said the project never received the support needed to make it a reality. Nearly two years after announcing plans, Harrell said the group had only fundraised about $50,000. So when Thieneman offered to buy the donated property back for $250,000, the Veteran’s Club board agreed.
“The proceeds from that sale are helping us tremendously, and it’s going to help a lot more veterans than if I just have an empty lot in south Louisville doing nothing,” he said.
Veteran’s Club expects to use the money to expand existing projects, like the group’s equine therapy program and a smaller veterans village in Shelbyville.
Harrell blames the pandemic and resulting economic downturn for the fundraising difficulties. Veteran’s Club held its groundbreaking ceremony and fundraising kickoff for Camp Restoration in March 2020, just weeks before state and local governments started implementing restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Harrell also blames Louisville officials, who he said never committed to putting significant money toward the project, despite publicly voicing support.
“All they had to do is put some finances in front of it,” he said. “We were going to do the hard work: We were going to run the programs, we were going to manage them.”
Some members of Metro Council, however, tell a different story.
Council Members Amy Holton Stewart of District 25, Cindi Fowler of District 14 and Anthony Piagentini of District 19 released a joint statement last week, saying they were “stunned” by the news that Camp Restoration was not moving forward. They said there was bipartisan support on Metro Council to give the project $3.5-$4.5 million in federal coronavirus relief funds.
“Now, as Louisville Metro’s Accelerator Team creates an application to apply for funds, and the Louisville Metro Council prioritized homelessness and affordable housing as the city’s first focus for ARP funds, the announcement of the sale of the planned Camp Restoration site blindsided us,” the three officials said.
Metro Government has roughly $340 million in unspent funds from the American Rescue Plan Act the U.S. Congress passed earlier this year.
Piagentini, who represents a part of east Louisville that includes Douglas Hills and Middletown, told WFPL that he was confident there would be funding for Camp Restoration after officials finished vetting all of the proposals.
“It would have been more reasonable for Harrell to contact [us] and inquire as to the likelihood of that happening, and then make a more educated decision,” he said. “For him to have made that deal with Chris Thieneman after we had all met with him…I think was not a wise decision.”
Piagentini said the “overwhelming support” for the project was communicated to Veteran’s Club, but Harrell disagreed.
“They don’t say, ‘Hey Jeremy, hold fast, stand tight, we’re going to get this money.’ That never happened,” he said. “It was basically just a string of emails.”
For now, both sides are leaving open the option to revive Camp Restoration in the future.
Council Members Fowler, Piagentini and Holton Stewart say they are still willing to fund the project if Veteran’s Club agrees or they can find a new investor. And Harrell said he’d describe the project as being “on hold” rather than scrapped completely.
“If there ever comes an opportunity for us to do this project, we’ll almost definitely do it,” Harrell said. “It just didn’t make sense right now.”