Kentucky Looking to P3 to Develop 133 Acres at Kentucky Expo Center

Project could include two full-service hotels, demolition of Old Cardinal Stadium

By Ed Green
P3 Kentucky Editor

A major development with multiple hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and retail outlets could be coming to 133 acres of land adjacent to Freedom Hall and the Kentucky Exposition Center if the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet finds the partners and plans it’s seeking to guide the effort.

On Wednesday, the Cabinet released a broad proposal seeking responses from partners who would be interested in participating in the development through a public-private partnership. According to Chris Reece, Executive Director of the Office of Finance for the Cabinet, officials are soliciting proposals from professional developers and businesses that have ideas about how the property could be best used.

“We don’t pretend to have all the answers about how this could and should be developed,” Reece said. “That’s why we’re looking to professionals to tell us what would work. We’ll let developers tell us what kind of development will add the most value and benefit for Louisville and the Commonwealth.”

The Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC) comprises more than 540 acres and 1.2 million square feet of space, accommodating nearly 2 million visitors each year. In 2017, the KEC hosted 225 events, including major conventions, trade shows, agricultural activities, athletic contests, and concerts.

“We are very interested to see what ideas the private sector will bring,” Reece said. “What we hear from customers is that they are extremely eager to have more to do that is within walking distance of the KEC.”

He noted that there has been interest in building at least one full-service hotel near the entrance of the KEC. However, Cabinet officials also believe there will be substantial interest in developing facilities on a highly visible section of property along Interstate 65.

Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, pointed out to the importance of the state-owned property in the heart Louisville.

“The Expo Center property and surrounding land around the airport create unique opportunities for future economic development – from hospitality to business locations,” she said. “We’re excited to see a fresh effort to promote the property.”

The Tourism Cabinet previously issued a request for proposal (RFP) for potential partners that could develop a sport entertainment complex on 12 acres along I-65, but canceled that request prior to awarding a contract. The current solicitation leaves open the possibility of working with one or multiple developers.

The current solicitation identifies two large parcels for potential development:

  • 45 acres on the south end of the property bordered by I-65, I-264, Phillips Lane, and the main entrance to the KEC.
  • 88 acres on the north end of the property bordered by I-65 and the northern entrance to the KEC facilities. The acreage also borders Cracker Barrel, Hilton Garden Inn, and Jefferson County Public Schools property.

Old Cardinal Stadium to be demolished

The second property includes two vacant structures, including Old Cardinal Stadium, and a structure that is currently being leased. The proposal notes that Cardinal Stadium would be demolished prior to issuance of an RFP, unless developers propose demolishing it as part of a development project.

The 88-acre parcel also includes an 8-acre section where the Cabinet is requesting ideas for the construction, as well as financing of a multi-purpose exposition center to complement the existing and future development of the property. The KEC would operate the facility and lease it back from a developer.

“The Cabinet is open to receiving proposals from one or more developers, which would result in one or more projects,” Reece said. “This could range from a partner that would develop a single piece of the overall development to a master developer partner.”

The state will accept written responses through June 19. A property tour is scheduled to take place June 6 at 10 a.m. for any interested parties.

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