What’s Happening With Center City?

by Gabe Bullard on October 14, 2008

Even if you heard our story on the controversy and our follow-ups (1, 2 and 3), you may still be wondering what’s happening with Center City.

The project’s developer, Baltimore-based Cordish, has made some concessions on how many jobs they will create, where some of those workers will come from and how much they will build, but they still haven’t signed anything holding them to their promise to invest between $200 and $450 million in the entertainment district.

Mayor Jerry Abramson says Cordish will undoubtedly spend at least $200 million. That’s the minimum investment the developer needs to make to receive tax increment financing (TIF) for the project. Without the TIF, the project would be much harder to pay for.

But it is true that Cordish could make their current contractual minimum investment – $24 million/200,000 square feet – and not go for the TIF. That’s not what Cordish says they will do, but it’s all they’re required to do. It’s what many Metro Council members are worried about. It’s why the vote was postponed until next week and it’s why there’s a workgroup looking at the deal now.

Cordish says other cities are waiting for similar projects, and if the council won’t approve the land purchase, that’s it for Center City. I talked to Council President Jim King and he said legal action is possible only if Cordish backs out once the city has purchased the land.

There’s also concern among council members about the economy. The minority caucus has referenced the indefinitely-stalled Museum Plaza as a reason to avoid leasing land for development in a shaky market. If the new downtown arena creates a development rush downtown, they don’t want a block of real estate leased to a company that isn’t doing anything with it.

The administration counters the caucus’ claim, saying this is the way other cities operate, and Center City is an essential part of a vibrant downtown.

So, essentially the Mayor is tired of waiting, the minority caucus is tired of subsidizing and Cordish says they’re almost tired of Louisville. In between, council members from both parties want Cordish to put their verbal promise of hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in writing.

The workgroup met Tuesday and was scheduled to give a report to the budget committee Wednesday, but the budget meeting has been cancelled.

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