Trusts reviving long-delayed plans for Oxmoor Farm - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Trusts reviving long-delayed plans for Oxmoor Farm

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Rough boundaries of Oxmoor Farm, by Dalton Main / WDRB Rough boundaries of Oxmoor Farm, by Dalton Main / WDRB
2002 concept plan for Oxmoor Farm 2002 concept plan for Oxmoor Farm
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For decades, it's been an oasis of agricultural land at the intersection of Interstate 64 and the Watterson Expressway.

But the family trusts that control Oxmoor Farm appear to be reviving long-delayed plans to develop what is perhaps the most desirable acreage in Louisville.

In an email dated July 2, representatives of the two trusts said they were planning to solicit proposals for a “master developer” with “experience and financial backing.”

Local businessman David Nicklies, already a consultant for the trusts, was interested in becoming the “master developer” of the property, according to the email.

And earlier this month, the state hired an engineering firm to evaluate plans for a new road network that is needed for the development plans to proceed.

The email was entered in federal court in Louisville as part of a lawsuit brought late last year by Lowry Watkins Jr., a beneficiary of the William Marshall Bullitt trust, who argues that trustee PNC Bank has been too slow to convert the farmland into more lucrative uses, such as retail and apartments.

Oxmoor Farm – from which the land for the Oxmoor Center mall was carved in the 1970s – still contains about 722 undeveloped acres most recently valued in 2010 at $73 million, according to records filed in the Watkins lawsuit.

In 2002, it looked as though construction on the land was just a few years away. Louisville officials approved a plan to convert about 415 acres into a2002 concept plan for Oxmoor Farm project resembling a small city, including:

  •  An office park with 947,600 square feet of space
  • 488,000 of retail/restaurant space (about half the size of Oxmoor Center)
  • A 400-room hotel
  • 1,294 apartments
  • 110 condos/townhouses 
  • 44 single-family homes
  • A 273-unit assisted living center

However, the Metro Planning Commission insisted that the development not be completed until an expensive road system was built – including an extension of Bunsen Parkway through the middle of Oxmoor Farm with bridges over the Watterson Expressway and I- 64.

The project was listed in the 2002 version of Kentucky's highway plan – with a construction line item of $15 million – but has never been funded, said Ryan Watts, a spokesman for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

But on Oct. 1, the state hired engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to study the feasibility of the project, Watts said.

State Rep. Steve Riggs, a Democrat from eastern Jefferson County, recalled hearing a pitch from Nicklies at the start of 2014 about funding the Oxmoor road project as part of the highway plan lawmakers approved last spring.

Chuck Wolfe, a spokesman for the transportation cabinet, acknowledged the discussions in an email to WDRB News:

“Yes, the cabinet knows about the proposed project. Cost estimates for it are being developed internally, which is not unusual,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe said the Oxmoor road project could be part of the next state highway plan, which will be put together about a year from now and taken up by lawmakers in the 2016 session of the General Assembly.

Nicklies declined multiple requests to comment on the Oxmoor project. The officials administering the Bullitt family trusts -- Stephen Mercer of PNC Wealth Management in Louisville and Gordon Maynard of Stock Yards Bank – also did not respond to inquiries.

Marcey Zwiebel, a spokeswoman at PNC's headquarters in Pittsburgh, declined to comment, citing Watkins' lawsuit.

The email filed in U.S. District Court indicates the trusts are looking to help raise money for the development with tax increment financing, or TIF, which has become a go-to method for funding real estate projects in Louisville, such as the KFC Yum! Center and the downtown Marriott hotel.

Riggs also recalled a pledge from the Bullitt trusts to give a portion of the land to the state. Along with the growth in tax revenue, the Oxmoor proposal represents “a wonderful deal for the state,” he said.

In the email, Mercer, the PNC trust administrator, describes a June 23 meeting in which Nicklies told the trusts he was interested in becoming the “horizontal developer” of the property, rather than simply a consultant on TIF financing and real estate development.

The trusts decided to ask for a written proposal from Nicklies while seeking other bids for the job.

“We will be reaching out to developers on a local and national basis…we believe have the experience and financial backing with which we can partner to make the Development a success,” Mercer wrote.

Meanwhile, Watkins – the grandson of William Marshall Bullitt – has not had much success in his lawsuit against PNC over the lack of development at Oxmoor Farm.

In a Sept. 22 opinion, U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell dismissed Lowry's key claims – that PNC  failed to do its job in developing the farm and has been negligent in not pursuing opportunities over the years.

The judge kept some of Lowry's lawsuit alive, including a claim that the PNC trust inflated its administrative fees by arbitrarily increasing the land's estimated value from $72 million to $130 million in one year. In court papers, PNC says Watkins presents no evidence or support for those figures.

The trust that benefits Watkins was established by William Marshall Bullitt in his 1951 will.  Plans to develop Oxmoor Farm go back to 1963, when a master plan was created, according to Watkins' lawsuit.

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