The Louisville Urban League is building a magnet in the West End that will attract tourists and generate at least $47 million in economic impact.

 

There are 24 acres of dirty land at 30th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. That’s 12 city blocks, sitting vacant, just a little over a mile from the childhood home of Muhammad Ali.

Dating as far back as 1898, this site was a focal point of the tobacco economy. Family farmers from around the region brought their crops here to be stored and processed. Ideally situated next to the railroad, tax-producing, revenue-generating products — albeit controversial ones — moved on and off the site. Jobs were plentiful on the property and in the surrounding neighborhood.

Times have changed.

The last company to operate on this site, National Tobacco, closed its doors years ago. It followed a trend of western Louisville companies that relocated or closed altogether, contributing to the reality that, from 2002-2015, the Louisville metropolitan statistical area added 31,000 jobs while the West End lost jobs. Once a hub of commerce and economic vitality, the West End is a shadow of itself, as community activists like Mattie Jones will attest.

The Louisville Urban League is not satisfied with this reality. Not on the street named after Louisville’s most famous son. Not on our watch.

With the help of Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville Metro Council, philanthropic and corporate partners, we are boldly disrupting the trajectory. We are building a 4,000 seat, state-of-the-art sports and learning complex with an indoor track as the anchor. We’ll welcome tens of thousands during indoor track season alone, and they will come to compete and watch events hosted by local teams, the NCAA and USA Track and Field.

Outside of track season, the hydraulic track will be lowered until it is even with the floor, allowing us to host academic conferences, science fairs, wrestling, fencing, cheerleading, table tennis, concerts and more. We’ll add duckpin bowling lanes and an interactive climbing wall because traveling siblings will encourage parents to spend on activities, and local residents deserve amenities.

Of course we have to keep the complex booked, and that’s why we’ve joined the ranks of the KFC YUM Center and the new soccer stadium in contracting with AEG, the world’s leading sports and live entertainment company.

We are building a magnet in the West End that will attract tourists and generate at least $47 million in economic impact in the process. The construction alone will spawn more than 300 jobs. A double win by our count because it means we are creating opportunity for the KYBuilds construction graduates being trained and nationally certified at the Louisville Urban League.

Indoor track season alone will bring 20,000 to 30,000 visitors at a time when no project in the West End is purporting to bring that kind of disposable income into the community. This is a unique opportunity for our city. Visitors traveling to the complex will rent rooms in Louisville and Southern Indiana, buy food in those same places, stop at stores for things forgotten and fill gas tanks to travel back home.

During the last recession when business travel suffered by as much as 25%, travel for youth sports was down only 5%. That is as close to recession proof as one can get!

Compared to participants in 20 other major sports, those who run track have the highest grades, lowest truancy and highest likelihood of college attendance. But track isn’t the only answer. Consider the host of other educational and recreational activities available, including outdoor classrooms. For it is those who have been most impacted by environmental injustice who should be invited to study environmental healing and regeneration.

There is no silver bullet, but we have a shot toward an upward trajectory that begins to improve the economy of the West End.

I am also compelled to write that we are protecting 24 acres from gentrification.

That matters.

Of course property values will increase, and we will partner with other solid organizations working to protect residents and aligning others to ensure potential future home and business ownership so that current residents are invested. Disinvestment breeds poverty, and absence of opportunity guarantees higher crime rates.

That abandoned lot at 30th and Muhammad Ali reflects the needs of a community redlined out of an entire economy. It is past time for this investment, and everyone should want to help make this a reality. Time is not on our side because we’ve waited long enough. We have momentum now! We’ve raised almost $20 million, and we are striving to add $20 million more because this venue will be a state-of-the-art sports and learning complex. After all, we are the Urban League, and we know there is no way to empower a community without prioritizing education.

We will soon see people drive through the region and across the country to walk on this site, compete on this site and watch boys and girls, men and women win on this site — only one block from the childhood home of the greatest of all time. Let’s remind ourselves that we are a city capable of producing champions. We’ve done it before. This is our time.

Run with us!

Sadiqa N. Reynolds is the president and CEO of the Louisville Urban League

HOW TO HELP

• Buy and put your name on a seat for $5,000.

• Encourage your company or place of employment to put its name on a seat or donate directly to the campaign at sportsandlearningcomplex.org.

Source: Louisville sports and learning complex to change West End development