Right before Christmas, a metaphoric lump of coal was delivered by city officials to the residents of the Paristown and Germantown neighborhoods. It was announced that the city had agreed to a “third-place” development proposal for the former Urban Government Center at Barrett Avenue and Breckinridge Street. Instead of providing a “green” sustainable revitalization of the old Baptist Hospital’s Highlands campus, the ironically named Paristown Preservation Trust group now plans to demolish all of the major structures.
While providing tons of material for the landfill, this project will also add massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere through the new construction implementation. If this isn’t bad enough, the proposed occupancies of the significant new buildings are not compatible with the nearby small-scale residential district: a mega parking garage for hundreds of cars (more traffic congestion and pollution!), thousands of square feet of office buildings and a 125-room hotel (like we need more office space and hotels!). These functions belong in downtown, not in an inner-city streetscape of shotgun-style houses. Such large projects will change the culture and character of German-Paristown.
This is the exact definition of “gentrification,” where a low-income urban area is dramatically transformed by higher-income interests, bringing in new businesses while displacing current inhabitants in the process. In other words, inserting non-compatible upper-end functions which raise the surrounding property values so much that the existing residents cannot afford either the increased rents or property taxes. PPT is seeking a TIF (tax increment funding) district, which depends on this progressive revenue source.
TIFs are typically only used for public projects, such as the YUM! Center, which spurs surrounding new commercial projects, thus increasing taxes to subsequently pay for the public project. However, the city has expanded TIFs to fund private projects. It seems that TIFs are now popping up everywhere. City leaders really need to evaluate how this will negatively impact the metro budget.
Even PPT realized this last August when it stated that public funding would not be needed: “It’s unconscionable to use those funds,” PPT said. “There are so many needs in this community... they’ve got lots of projects that they’ve been talking about for years, and so to put those types of public funds in a private developer’s pocket is just, it’s unreasonable, it's irrational.”
PPT said its funding would come from “multiple sources, including numerous commercial banks, insurance companies, private equity funds, real estate investment trusts, Housing and Urban Development-insured lenders and high net worth individuals.” PPT said, “It is unreasonable to ask the government to use public funds for a private development...,” and PPT stated that it didn’t think it would initially go after a TIF.
Now, in a contradictory and hypocritical manner, PPT says they won’t break ground until a TIF is approved by Metro Council!
This whole UGC proposal process has been a dumpster fire for several years, and now it has become a fire-alarm blaze that will engulf this once tranquil, affordable community.
The selection process has been debatable from the start. Many felt that the first selected proposal was a development scheme that did not fit the context of the neighborhood.
Then, many cheered when a second proposal by Underhill Associates’ was chosen, which was more in line with what the residents needed: senior affordable housing, a grocery, student housing, the innovative Thrive Center, and a childcare facility. It also preserved the major structures which would minimally disrupt the area during construction. And it was very “green” and met the residents’ expectations. These first and second-place proposals did not proceed for various reasons, and the city now is left with this questionable third-place proposal.
No “green” construction, gentrification on steroids, lacking desired neighborhood services, a TIF that reduces city revenues and a dubious selection process: this UGC deal is definitely one for Santa’s “naughty list!”
Steve Wiser, FAIA, is a local architect.
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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Paristown, Germantown new proposal is gentrification | Opinion