LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – It was June 1987 and the city was the underdog in the fight to win over the Presbyterian Church – hoping to lure the church’s new headquarters to a then-barren waterfront.
Jerry Abramson was Louisville’s mayor.
“This is a community that saw the glass half empty at that time. We just didn't think we could compete. We just had not been successful in head to head competition with other cities and this was our opportunity to take on the big boys – Dallas, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Kansas City,” he said.
The competition was fierce. Louisville was just one of 47 cities vying for the headquarters which was sure to bring an economic boost.
The church promised to create more than 900 jobs but what it would ultimately bring to Louisville was hope.
“It got into the bloodstream of this community I mean the community was so excited about the chances,” Abramson said. "There were so many people in the community from top to bottom that helped out.”
Bringing in the Presbyterians was a community-wide effort with neighbors, businesses, religious leaders, and politicians all pitching in.
Local businessman David Jones helped lead the charge. The Humana co-founder and lifetime Presbyterian offered the church the old Belknap property for free.
“We're gonna tell them about the individual commitment that David Jones has made to set up an anchor right down the street so we can have that building and have that anchor on the waterfront," Abramson said in WHAS11 News archival footage.
Days before the Presbyterian General Assembly met for a final vote on its headquarters, the odds didn't look good for Louisville. Church leaders had tentatively decided to locate in Kansas City. The city of Louisville wasn't backing down.
The city orchestrated a spectacular show of hospitality to encourage the Presbyterians to change their minds with a massive rally with thousands of people in the heart of downtown.
Church choirs, dancers, politicians and everyday people gathered on the steps of the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
The city took a video of the rally, sending it to Biloxi with Mayor Abramson and other community leaders to present to the General Assembly.
"People were just blown away by the hospitality and the excitement and the welcoming feeling that Louisville portrayed to each and every one of them," Abramson said.
City leaders told the Assembly the church would save $21.5 million by accepting Louisville's offer and they did.
The Presbyterian Church dedicated its new headquarters in Louisville the following year. The ceremony –a community affair
"We had a song that was carried on the radio and TV it was called “Look What We Can Do Louisville, Louisville”. And the Presbyterians was the first stake in the ground that said here we are we're ready to go we can compete with anybody,” Abramson said. “And I think personally that the Presbyterian decision was that Seminole moment that made the difference and everybody else said yes we can."