LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Passport Health Plan, the nonprofit that administers Medicaid benefits in the Louisville area, will construct a new corporate office on the vacant site where Walmart had once planned to build a super center.

The building – likely three stories tall, with space for up to 1,000 workers -- will anchor a “health and wellness” campus on the 18-acre site at 1800 West Broadway. It’s planned to open in 2020.

Passport announced the plan Wednesday in a news conference with Mayor Greg Fischer and several West Louisville religious leaders.

Passport’s move follows a failed effort to land a Walmart super center for the site. Walmart announced in 2014 that it would build the store, but backed out late last year.

Combined with the YMCA branch planned across the street and Brown Forman Corp.’s adjacent headquarters, the Passport office building will create a “nucleus of activity” that will spur more development in West Louisville, Fischer said Wednesday.

“This is transformational for this part of the city, and of course, retail will come. Restaurants will come. Entertainment will come after this,” Fischer said.

Beyond the office building, Passport’s plans for the property are still conceptual.

A rendering of the site shows a potential parking garage and a retail building – but more than half of the site is green space marked as “available for future development.”

Passport CEO Mark Carter said the decision puts the organization – currently housed in a business park off Preston Highway – closer to the low-income population it serves.

About 75,000 of Passport’s 300,000 Medicaid members live within a 10-mile radius of the site, he said.

“It’s really to put our money where our mouth is, and locate in the community that needs us the most in Louisville,” Carter said.

Carter added that whatever other development takes place, Passport’s ownership of the whole site ensures that it will be compatible with “health” and “wellness” themes. For example, a pharmacy could locate there, but not a fast food restaurant.

Financial details

Passport will pay Newbridge Development – a company owned by local construction company executives Frank and Teresa Bridgewaters -- $7.1 million for the site.

In 2006, then-Mayor Jerry Abramson’s administration gave the site – an abandoned cigarette plant -- to the Bridgewaterses for no payment, but they promised to demolish the old buildings and market the property for redevelopment.

Passport has also agreed to pay the Bridgewaters another $2 million for a smaller, adjacent parcel of land that will be created by the planned realignment of Dixie Highway.

The $7.1 million from the sale of the large parcel will allow the Bridgewaters to pay off a $1.7 million credit to line to MainSource Bank, which has filed a foreclosure on the property.

Meanwhile, Metro government will forgive a $1.1 million loan it made to the Bridgewaterses’ company, Newbridge Development, in 2013.

As WDRB reported last month, the purpose of the $1.1 million was to allow Newbridge to buy additional parcels of land needed for the Walmart site, but public records show the developers spent only $357,000 for that purpose.

The Bridgewaterses have declined to say what happened to remaining $743,000 in city funds, and Teresa Bridgewaters refused to comment when approached by a reporter after Wednesday’s news conference.

Mayor Greg Fischer declined to say why the city didn’t insist on being repaid the loaned money from the $7.1 million proceeds of the sale to Passport. He referred comment to Jeff Mosley, the city’s chief negotiator on the deal.

Mosley said city officials decided not to attempt to collect the funds from the Bridgewaterses as a matter of expediency in getting the Passport deal finalized.

“In 2013, that was the deal that was made, and given what’s coming here today and the money that’s being invested here today -- it’s going to be over a $40 million structure… We think the global ending of everything is in the best interests of all, and given what is here, is worth where we are,” Mosley said.

Fischer’s administration has agreed to a number of additional payments of city money to complete the deal:

  • A $500,000 grant to Passport (which had also been offered to Walmart)
  • $762,000, paid to Passport when the sale closes, to “assist in acquisition / land preparation costs”
  • A tax-increment financing district which will give Passport $2.8 million to $4 million in property tax rebates over 20 years, subject to approval by the Metro Council

Carter said he isn't sure yet how the building will be financed -- though it will ultimately come from Medicaid revenues, as office space is part of Passport's cost to administer the program.

He said a developer may construct the building in exchange for a long-term lease from Passport.

Founded in 1997, Passport is a group of hospital companies and physician practices formed to administer Medicaid benefits under a contract with the state.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2017 WDRB News. All rights reserved.