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'Connect Louisville to Louisville': Here's how Waterfront Park development started, here's where it's going

"It's going to cost about $50 million, making it the largest public amenity investment in west Louisville in decades."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Waterfront Park has been a 30-plus years project, since it was created in 1986.

The community has enjoyed the renovations and improvements with concerts, parades and fireworks.

The recent $50 million expansion, which was set to expand to west Louisville, has stalled during the pandemic. The park is working to raise money for the next 22-acre phase, adding an event space and play works for kids.

Deborah Bilitski, president of Waterfront Park, told WHAS11 News in June that they would love to raise $12 million within the next year.

Gov. Andy Beshear announced Tuesday that he plans to get the park much closer to the goal, proposing $10 million in 2022's state budget to fund the expansion.

The dollars would be used over two years to support the expansion between 10th and 14th Street.

Connecting all of Louisville, Beshear said it’s an investment in the future.

RELATED: What's next for Waterfront Park? Fourth expansion phase is underway

“It will include plazas, gardens, a large observation pier at the river’s edge that can accommodate events, performances and other gatherings,” Beshear said. “The project is going to connect downtown Louisville and west Louisville along the water creating one Waterfront.”

Credit: Waterfront Park

Longtime Kentucky Senator Gerald Neal released a statement saying he would "urge lawmakers to appropriate funding in the next budget for a project that would expand Waterfront Park into West neighborhoods."

“The west end of the city occupies a large area along the Ohio River,” Sen. Neal said. “I have pushed for this funding to expand for some time because it is important that all Louisville families have access to this tremendous public resource and outdoor space.”

Senator Neal said he plans to work with both the Senate and the House to advocate the importance of the westward expansion of Waterfront Park.

The Kentucky legislative session is expected to begin in January. 

The project would bring new amenities to families along the Ohio river, right in the Portland neighborhood and others in west Louisville like Shawnee and Chickasaw.

It's Phase IV of a project that last brought us the Big Four Bridge and lawn at the park back in 2013.

Neighbors are hopeful and believe the expansion will make a difference. They also say putting more amenities in west Louisville is long overdue.

Credit: Waterfront Park

"I see children not just in my job, but in the day-to-day, and I see there's nothing for them to do here," said Portland resident Katy Delahanty, who's also the executive director of the Portland Museum.

Former Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton got the ball rolling in the early 2000's, helping the process to bring blueprints to fruition. 

"We didn't really have access to the river." Bryant Hamilton said. "I said, 'I got this dream where we can expand Waterfront Park west."

She saw an opportunity for growth near the river under I-64.

"Portland, Shawnee, Chickasaw," Bryant Hamilton said. "I put my money where my mouth was and used some of the district funds to get the project started."

Her office's money hired the first architect.

The Portland Neighborhood Association also says access will be key, eliminating current barriers so families can reach the area easily.

"We need some more roads because not everyone can walk or bike," said Mike Neagle, the association's current president. 

Ultimately the goal is to connect Louisville to Louisville, and slowly chip away at the divide at the same time.

"We're hoping it will spur further development on the other side of the street," Bryant Hamilton said.

Still, millions of more dollars will have to be approved and accounted for, so the exact timeline for this phase isn't clear. We do know the Metro Sewer District would need to finish its construction nearby, before any Waterfront Park construction could start.

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