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Three Louisville Metro Council members have said they may withhold support for Mayor Greg Fischer's proposed city budget because it includes a plan to grant a half-million dollar loan to the group behind the Whisky Row renovation project. They claim the city has already granted a $1.5 million dollar forgivable loan to the project, the money could be better used elsewhere, and that the Whisky Row backers are rich people who don't need any more city help.
These are compelling arguments. But I think their opposition is a mistake.
First, this additional half-million isn't a forgivable loan, but one the city expects to be repaid – with interest. And it's just the first element of a larger plan that'll result in matching private investment totaling 1.5 million.
Secondly, Whisky Row won't be the only beneficiary of this money. As the loan is repaid, Mayor Fischer plans to reinvest that same pool of money into future historic preservation projects.
And yes, most of the Whisky Row developers have considerable personal wealth. But their success in this venture won't just benefit them, but the entire city. And besides – I'd say they constitute a pretty good risk for repayment.
This is a critical piece of the puzzle that will realize the true promise of the Arena district. And its potential to dramatically boost Louisville's economic health can't be overstated.