By BRADEN LAMMERS
The developer of the former Rose Hill Elementary school used to play basketball in the gym when he was in grade school.
He said he never thought he would buy the property, but the fact it will be developed and owned by a local company is very important to the development’s neighbors.
API President Alan Muncy unveiled his company’s plans to convert the former Rose Hill Elementary school to neighbors Tuesday night, and the hope is at least part of the project will be complete before Thunder Over Louisville.
And the initial response from the Rose Hill Neighbors was positive.
“I was really worried about coming to this meeting tonight because I had no idea what to expect,” said Cyndi McHolland, a Rose Hill resident, during the unveiling at Market Street Inn. “You’ve done a great job and I think it’s just really exciting,” she said to API planners.
Developers of the project, being called The Loft at Big Four Station, plan to create a single-story, mixed-use development. Features include:
• 18 multifamily units and more than 5,000 square feet of commercial space.
• Four units along Mulberry Street that would face the park being developed at Big Four Station would be alongside the commercial spaces. Those units would have a main floor living area and a loft on the second floor, encompassing 1,500 to 1,800 square feet, according to project planners.
• The remaining two wings of the existing building would likely be two-bedroom, two-bathroom units with about 1,000 to 1,200 square feet and rent for about $1,200 per month.
• A secure parking lot and a courtyard between the two wings of the structure are other features of the planned development.
The condo unit size could change based on demand, according to API.
But there are several hurdles to clear before the project can begin.
API still needs approvals for a zoning change and a zoning variance to be granted before construction could begin on the project. The zoning requests are expected to be presented at the Plan Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals meetings Tuesday, Nov. 26. Once a recommendation is provided, the city council will have final approval on the zoning change and variance at their subsequent meeting Dec. 2.
Eric Goodman, vice president of development with API, said the company is seeking a change to downtown commercial zoning in order to allow for both businesses and residences to be located at the site. He explained API did not want to develop the site as purely a residential or commercial project.
“We don’t think that’s realistic, we think we need the mix of uses to make the project happen,” Goodman said.
Muncy said the goal is to land a national brand tenant as a commercial user for the anchor of the project, then target some local businesses. He envisions businesses like a coffee shop, ice cream shop or deli in the development and has been in talks with some potential tenants. He declined to name the companies, but the purpose of those potential tenants would be to draw those coming off the Big Four bridge to an outdoor space where they can sit, congregate and be comfortable.
Those retail spaces would fill a need that does not currently exist near the Big Four bicycle and pedestrian bridge. Muncy said Louisville’s got a large park area on its side of the walking bridge, but nowhere to spend your money.
“They’re going to spend their money on our side,” Muncy said. “The key is getting them over to our side and off the bridge.”
To fit in with the look of the historic neighborhood and tie into the area and bridge’s history, API plans to use similar elements in the building. Muncy said the footprint of the former Rose Hill School will stay the same, but the facades will be dressed with architectural features of metal, stone and brick. A caboose will also be created on the facade above a walkthrough for residents and other railroad elements are planned, like taking train wheels and converting them into bike racks.
The plan is something API is ready to implement immediately.
“We’re ready to pull the trigger on this now,” Muncy said. “If we’re granted rezoning on this property we’re going to aggressively move [forward]. My personal goal is to see this completed prior to Thunder and have commercial tenants in there.”
“We can’t promise that we’re going to get those tenants that fast, but that is our goal.” Goodman added.
It was estimated that it would take about one year to complete the full project.
A key for the Rose Hill Neighbors, aside from the speed of development, is that Jeffersonville-based API will retain ownership rights to the property.
“This is a project we’re going to have our name on and we’re going to keep,” Muncy said.
API planners said the project could grow in the future, both up and into nearby properties.
One way in which the development could grow is by adding a second floor to the former schoolhouse, but currently there is not enough property to create the required amount of parking spaces for a second floor during the first phase of development. The other option is growing the project to include the property along the frontage of Colston Park.
“We have an interest in that land if there is an opportunity for us to gain ownership,” Goodman said.
The Jeffersonville Redevelopment Commission approved a contract in August to allow Corn Island Archeology to move forward with a phase II, and possibly a phase III study on Colston Park, where a a Civil War-era gravesite exists. The study will only investigate 120 feet back from Mulberry Street, to determine if a development could take place.
Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore unveiled his plan for the property in June called Rose Hill Commons. The development he offered would be a mixed-use development with retail space and brownstones that line Mulberry Street.
But before development could occur there, the city’s redevelopment commission would need to acquire the deed from the Parks Authority, which is comprised of city council members.
City Councilman Mike Smith, who attended the neighborhood meeting along with Councilman Dennis Julius, said he has not heard an update yet on the study for Colston Park, but expects a report within the next few months. While he said he is in favor of the project, Smith would not say he would hand over the deed to the property until some questions are answered.
“I do support something, and whatever it is and whoever does it, I am protective of what’s behind it,” Smith said of the cemetery.
Smith said he would like to see something done with the cemetery that existed on the site, but he doesn’t have a specific idea of what to do only that he would like to see it recognized somehow.
Asked if he would be willing to deed over the property for something similar to the Brownstone proposal Smith said, “all that would depend on the project. As long as it’s quality contractors and a quality project and they present it to the neighborhoods I’m good with it.”
For at least some of the residents, they have been hoping for the development for some time.
Case Kuiper said he has lived in the Rose Hill neighborhood for three years and is hoping to see more developments and businesses geared toward pedestrians.
McHolland said the walkablility, historic nature of the neighborhood and promised development of the area is part of the reason she moved to the Rose Hill neighborhood.
“This was really icing on the cake today,” she said. “The more there is, the more it’ll attract.”