Google Fiber Is Now Available In Select Louisville Neighborhoods Wednesday, Oct 18 2017 

Residents in three Louisville neighborhoods can begin signing up for Google Fiber ultra high speed internet.

The service is now available in the Portland, Newburg and Belknap areas, said Ashley Kroh, a spokeswoman for the company’s southeast region. The availability comes months after city officials announced Google Fiber would begin installing fiber infrastructure.

City records show Google Fiber and the company’s subcontractors have been issued more than 40 construction permits for work related to installing the infrastructure. Permits were first issued at the end of May.

Kroh said the build-out in Louisville has been the “fastest in the nation” due to the ability to install infrastructure via shallow trenches in roadways.

Currently, Google Fiber is available in 11 U.S. cities, including Louisville,  according to the company’s website.

City officials aggressively courted Google Fiber since the ultra high speed Internet service provider first expressed interest in exploring an expansion to Louisville more than two years ago.

Google Fiber, and the Internet service it provides, is considered a catalyst for economic growth. The service has already proven to be a spark for competition among service providers. AT&T and Time Warner both began rolling out fiber service shortly after Google expressed Interest in expanding to the city.

In Louisville, local lawmakers approved a controversial ordinance to help attract Google Fiber. The move drew a lawsuit from telecommunications giant AT&T — which was dismissed in August.

The so-called “one-touch make ready” policy allows contractors to rearrange existing equipment as long as they submit certain notices to the owners of the equipment and the utility pole.

Kroh said the ordinance gave Google Fiber “increased level of confidence in a city that was on the rise.”

“It was a huge step for the country,” she said.

But despite the fight that came from the ordinance, Kroh said the company has yet to lean on the ability granted via the change in law.

She also said the company will depend on fiber cabling to connect homes — not wireless hook-ups.

Kroh declined to say where the company plans to build next. She also didn’t say just how many miles of fiber cabling has been laid in Louisville.

She did say the company’s plan is to hook up the entire city.

Scott Pluta, who works for Google Fiber as the Louisville manager, said the focus is “laser-like” on residential — not commercial.

No one is officialy signed-up yet, he said, but he expects that to change this week.

As for projections, he declined to say just how many people he expects to opt for Google Fiber.

Dare To Care, Foxhollow Farm Partner On Smoketown Mobile Food Pantry Tuesday, Oct 17 2017 

In the Smoketown neighborhood, on a parking lot overlooked by Grace Hope Presbyterian Church, a little girl in a batman costume and other volunteers are passing out food. Dare to Care organizes a mobile pantry here every month, but on this Tuesday they have 175 pounds of meat thanks to a new partnership with Foxhollow Farm.

Jerry Gardner waited in line and was handed food by kids wearing superhero costumes. Gardner said this service is a help to the community, which has few options.

“When they closed down the Kroger on Second Street, it hurt the community on Second Street. They’re cutting out food stamps, they’re just cutting out everything in a lot of these things around in this zone — not just here but everywhere,” Gardner said.

“These things here help me and my family because I lost my job recently. I’m just here because I need the help. I’m not here ‘just because.’ I’m here for a reason.”

Jonese Franklin

Residents line up for the Dare to Care mobile food pantry in Smoketown.

When the Second Street Kroger closed, it hurt Wanda White, too. White said the closure complicated things for her, making her travel farther for food. She’s also thankful for the mobile pantry.

“It’s very convenient and it really helps us to make it over to the following month,” White said. “It’s always easier on a person when they’re on a fixed income to pick up some food to lead you over.”

Annette Ball, chief programs officer at Dare to Care Food Bank estimated around 200 people would get food from the pantry Tuesday.

Kyeland Jackson | wfpl.org

Dare to Care volunteers give out food in Smoketown.

Ball said there are 56 mobile pantries throughout Louisville that help communities lacking access to grocery stores and healthy food options. She said Dare to Care picks areas to station mobile pantries according to community centers and the number of volunteers who can help.

Several mobile pantries, Ball said, are in the Russell neighborhood.

According to data from the Greater Louisville Project, Louisville ranks second among cities for the percentage of population with low access to grocery stores.

Maggie Keith, a steward for Foxhollow Farm, said the farm may partner with Dare to Care again to provide more meat for the mobile pantries.

In Louisville’s Aging Sewer System, Collapses Are Frequent Tuesday, Oct 17 2017 

In August, a sewer collapse in downtown Louisville stopped traffic on parts of Main Street and drew weeks of media coverage. The collapse ended up costing the Metropolitan Sewer District about $3 million in repairs. But it was only one of nearly 400 cave-ins in the county so far this year; in the past, there have been as many as 843 similar incidents annually.

Jefferson County has two distinct systems: a combined sewer system in the older parts of the city (largely inside the Watterson Expressway) and a sanitary sewer system. The combined sewer system uses one pipe for both wastewater and storm water; the sanitary sewer system uses one pipe for wastewater and a separate one for storm water.

Alexandra Kanik | wfpl.org

Last year, there was one cave-in for every four miles of infrastructure within MSD’s combined sewer system. There was one cave-in for every eight miles of infrastructure in the larger sanitary sewer system.

MSD Regulatory and Compliance Manager Dan French said the data doesn’t surprise him.

“We treat everything we can, but those pipes in those older developments inside the city are so large that we know during a rain event we’re not going to be able to treat everything,” French said. “A lot of these systems, the infrastructure is old, it wasn’t put in properly in the first place, so it causes a lot of problems.”

For every year since at least 2008, there have been several hundred more cave-ins in the sanitary sewer than in the combined system. French said one reason is the sheer number of miles of infrastructure in the sanitary system. But another reason is in these areas — largely suburban and rural — there’s less concrete to keep cave-ins from showing.

He said in other areas, the infrastructure is just poor and aging. Some of that infrastructure in the combined sewer system was built using brick in the late 1800s and is still in use. Rain plays a role, too.

But collapses have decreased since peaking in 2011. MSD responded to 600 cave-ins last year, and French said the number of cave-in calls this year also seems lower than usual. He attributed that low number to Louisville’s dryer weather season.

MSD

Even so, MSD still has outstanding infrastructure problems to address. Officials published a 20 year, $4.3 billion Critical Repair and Reinvestment Plan earlier this year, and have requested two significant rate hikes to fund the plan.

In both 2016 and 2017, MSD sought Metro Council approval for 20 percent rate hikes, which officials estimated would have increased the average ratepayer’s bill by about $11. But neither cleared the Metro Council, and MSD settled for smaller increases.

“A lot of people don’t think about the sewers and the pipes that are underground that are running under their feet and how they actually work,” French said.

Of that larger $4.3 billion plan, MSD officials estimate they’ll need $496 million to upgrade existing sewers and facilities to cut down on the number of yearly system cave-ins. They plan to discuss sewer rate hikes with the Metro Council again next year.

Funding For The Butchertown Soccer Stadium, Explained Monday, Oct 16 2017 

Louisville Metro Council is expected to vote next week on whether to issue $30 million in municipal bonds to buy 15 acres of land in the city’s Butchertown neighborhood.

The plan is for the city to buy the land, then give it to the Louisville City Football Club. The pro soccer team would build a $50 million stadium, as well as develop the remaining parcels with retail and hotels. The entire project is expected to cost $200 million.

Many of the details of the deal are laid out here, but unless you’re a bonding expert, you may not completely understand the proposal.

What is a municipal bond?

There are a few ways a city can raise money to pay for capital projects.

One way is a one-time tax increase, but this is problematic. It creates an equity problem, and also can be politically unpopular because residents today are paying for a project that future residents would benefit from without paying the initial tax.

Instead, many cities use municipal bonds for major projects.

“A bond is a form of debt; an IOU, a loan,” said Michael Anthony Campbell, an assistant professor at Tennessee State University. “It has some degree of interest associated with it.”

Municipal bonds are used to raise money for city projects like water treatment facilities, jails, schools or bridges. The city borrows the money from investors and promises to pay those investors back over time with interest.

“The overwhelming majority, maybe not in raw dollars, but the number of municipal bonds being issued are for public good issues,” Campbell said. “Local governments are issuing bonds all the time for small, medium, large projects that fall under the classification of the much more traditional public good.”

Municipal bonds are classified into two types: revenue bonds and general obligation bonds. Revenue bonds guarantee investors will get their money back through revenue generated from a project. General obligation bonds guarantee investors will get their money back through the city’s power to tax. The measure being considered to buy the land for Louisville’s soccer stadium would be a general obligation bond.

Why should I care?

Because your tax dollars will ultimately be used to pay off the bonds.

Janet Kelly, executive director of the Urban Studies Institute at the University of Louisville said in Louisville, the main taxes that could potentially be raised to pay off bonds are property and occupational — or payroll — taxes.

If that’s the case, Louisvillians would want to make sure this investment is good for the city, which is why many are paying attention to the economic impact study of the stadium.

And in some cases, economic studies on sports arenas can overestimate the benefit to the city and public, including overstating the number of jobs that would be created or retail sales that would be generated.

The city says having the stadium is a key investment that will allow Louisville to compete for a Major League Soccer franchise. Other advantages, the city says, include more than 1,400 construction jobs as well as more than 1,700 jobs after the project’s completion.

So what are we really talking about when we talk about bonds?

“I think part of the underlying discussion here is what do we want our government spending money on,” Campbell said.

The proposed development uses public dollars for private investment, which is different from more straight-forward bonds that are used for infrastructure or school projects.

Some believe that the use of public dollars to stimulate the private sector benefits everyone; it’s a public good.

Proponents of the project say the initial stadium development will spur others in the area, like retail, restaurants and hotels. The city says the development would also get rid of a brownfield and bring more people to the Butchertown neighborhood, as well as nearby Big Four Bridge and the soon-to-be-built Botanical Gardens. There’s also an intangible benefit in appeasing a sports team: civic pride.

But others believe that in similar situations, cities and taxpayers often never really get those initial investments back. And they say those tax dollars could be put to better use.

“There’s so many things we need in our cities besides stadiums,” said Art Rolnick, senior fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. “We got limited dollars; you can only tax so much…and you have to ask what’s the best public investment.”

Rolnick said he thinks money could be better used for basics like roads, lighting, health and education.

“That’s what makes great cities and great economies,” he said. “Get the public goods right.”

How could this deal go wrong?

The deal presented to Louisville’s Metro Council lays out the terms: Louisville Metro Government, with the help of $30 million in bonds, will buy the land in Butchertown and make some improvements. The soccer team, Louisville City Football Club, would be responsible for the cost of building the 10,000-seat stadium. The soccer club would also pay $14.5 million back to the city over 20 years for the cost of the land. Louisville Metro won’t own the stadium.

The city says the amount of public money in the deal is capped at $30 million — Louisville City FC will be responsible for any cost overruns. And if the team doesn’t end up building a stadium, it can either buy the land from Louisville, or the city can seek other development opportunities.

But Janet Kelly of U of L’s Urban Studies Institute said one possible outcome is that the stadium is built — but it doesn’t generate the expected economic boom for the area.

“We could be sitting on a piece of land with a soccer stadium on it that is underutilized and we’re pretty much stuck with it because it would be very difficult to transition that to another more effective use,” she said.

There’s also the possibility that Louisville gets its professional soccer stadium, but doesn’t get a bid to join the major leagues. There are other cities, such as San Antonio and Cincinnati, that are better positioned to snag a professional team. It’s also an unknown if soccer will be popular enough in the coming decades to bank on its future, or whether the team will even stay in Louisville.

Whether you love sports, hate sports or are indifferent, Louisville taxpayers would ultimately be responsible for paying for the initial investment in this proposed Butchertown development. Kelly said this is why the public has a right to review the city’s investment of the land for the soccer stadium — because it is ultimately the public that would be responsible for future payments.

Disclosure: Louisville City FC is privately owned by 47 investors. Two of those, Gill Holland and José Donis, are Louisville Public Media board members.

Soccer Team Owners Helped Fund Campaigns Of Mayor, Council Members Friday, Oct 13 2017 

Members of the Louisville City FC ownership group have given Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Metro Council members thousands of dollars in past campaign contributions.

The politicians collectively received about $45,000 from nearly half of the team’s 47 owners in election cycles since 2002, according to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance records.

Many of the gifts were the maximum amount individuals could give at the time: $1,000. The law has since been changed to allow individuals to donate up to $2,000 to candidates per election.

Political scientists say donations like these are powerful tools for groups seeking to curry favor with elected officials. Being a donor can bring a promise of access.

And access can lead to influence, said Dewey Clayton, chair of the University of Louisville’s political science department.

Louisville City FC’s owners have stressed the need for a soccer stadium since the team began playing in Louisville in 2015. The team currently plays home games at Louisville Slugger Field — home of the city’s professional baseball team, the Louisville Bats.

Now, the ownership group is trying to convince the Metro Council to approve a public financing measure that would assist in the construction of a $200 million soccer stadium project — complete with retail, office space and a hotel in the Butchertown neighborhood.

Fischer has already said he’d commit $30 million in public funds to the project, but he’ll first need council approval.

Clayton said the donations made in past elections don’t suggest Louisville’s leaders have been bought. Money doesn’t turn politicians to pawns, he said.

But, Clayton said when someone has a record of shelling out money for elections, it can potentially buy access to meetings where ideas can be heard, discussed and considered.

“That’s a whole lot right there, that’s getting their ear,” he said. “Oftentimes, that will be enough.”

There’s nothing illegal about the relationship, but it can skew the system in favor of donors who are often wealthy and have projects and plans in mind, said Edwin Bender, executive director of FollowTheMoney.org — a nonprofit dedicated to examining the impact of campaign finance on public policy.

Projects with public funding components like sports stadiums are complicated and can create a perception of favoritism, Bender said.

“That’s what disclosure and transparency are all about,” he said. “It’s incumbent on the Mayor and the Council Members that they are making decisions for the larger populous.”

Donations To Fischer

Soccer team owners gave Fischer $31,875 over the course of two election cycles, campaign finance records show.

Nearly a dozen of the owners have given the maximum amount allowed by an individual.

The records also show that Fischer’s biggest donors include some of the most visible members of the team ownership group — like Michael Mountjoy, Tim Mulloy and John Hollenbach.

Fischer was first elected in 2010, and has raised more than $4 million in his quest to be and remain the city’s top official. He’ll be seeking re-election next year.

Fischer has championed the idea of constructing a soccer stadium in the city’s Butchertown neighborhood, just east of downtown near Interstate-64 and River Road. He often attends the team’s home games at Louisville Slugger field and he regularly joins fans near the field, singing along with cheers and playing a drum.

In a text message, Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter said Fischer had “absolutely not” been swayed to support the stadium project by donors.

“The mayor and his team are doing this because of the many significant community benefits of this transformative project,” Poynter wrote.

During a September news conference, Fischer called the deal a “smart opportunity.”

“And when smart opportunities to move our city forward come up, we’re going to grab them,” he said.

Donations To Metro Council

The city’s 26-member Metro Council has delayed a vote on the project’s public funding measure.

Democrat Barbara Sexton Smith is sponsoring the ordinance that would secure the $30 million public bond plan needed to purchase and prepare land for the stadium project. She said the delay was needed because council members had more questions about the deal.

Team owners have appeared at council committee meetings and presented economic analysis that show big gains in tax revenues and jobs if the stadium project is completed.

Economic experts, though, have criticized the projections.

“Completely unrealistic and lofty,” said Andrew Zimbalist, economics professor at Smith College and a renowned expert on sports economics.

“Academic studies consistently find no discernible positive relationship between sports facility construction and local economic development, income growth, or job creation,” said Ted Gayer, director of the economic studies program at the Brookings Institution.

Still, many council members are supporting the project.

Team owners gave $12,950 to support the campaigns of 12 sitting council members in election cycles stretching back to 2002, campaign finance records show.

Democratic council members have received $7,200, while Republicans have received $5,750, the records show.

Republican Glenn Stuckel has received more from soccer team owners than any other council member. His district stretches from Hurstbourne Parkway east to the county line in far eastern Jefferson County.

Council President David Yates has been given $1,500 from team owners.  Democratic Caucus chair Bill Hollander has received $3,500.

Louisville City FC owner Sandra Frazier has given $4,500 to sitting council members, the records show. Hollenbach has given $3,000, per the records.

Steve Haag, spokesman for the council’s minority Republican caucus, said many council members were unaware of the identities of the team’s ownership until earlier this month. He doubts the contributions have swayed any influence.

Tony Hyatt, spokesman for the council’s majority caucus, dismissed the notion that council members can be swayed by campaign donations.

“It throws a question and a shadow on something that I think is just not there,” Hyatt said.

Money Is A Factor In Politics

Political campaigns are often financed by people with special interests, said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, an ethics watchdog group.

This norm can undermine the public faith and confidence in government, he said. Yet the reality is that money is a factor in politics.

Moreover, the influence of individual contributions — which are capped at $2,000 — may seem inconsequential, Ryan said. But when grouped with other donations from individuals with the same interest — the promise of access grows.

And if a politician only hears from the people who give money — perspectives can be skewed.

“You may begin to conflate their interests with the interests of the public, at large,” Ryan said. “That’s the pernicious effect of money in politics.”

Disclosure: Louisville City FC is privately owned by 47 investors. Two of those, Gill Holland and José Donis, are Louisville Public Media board members.

This story has been updated.

LMPD Boosts Security For Ironman After Vegas — But Offers Few Details Friday, Oct 13 2017 

The city is bolstering security for this year’s Ironman Louisville triathlon.

Louisville Metro Police spokesman Dwight Mitchell said recent events urged police to review and change security measures for the triathlon. One of those events, Mitchell said, was the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

“Obviously with the events that have happened, we look at those things and always try to look at our plan to make sure that it is as secure as it can be,” said Mitchell. “And we feel like we’ve made some of those changes to enhance that. LMPD will have adequate coverage and make the venue as safe as it always has been when it’s occurred in Louisville.”

Although Mitchell said changes have been made to beef up security for the event, he declined to comment on the specifics of those changes, only saying security measures differ from last year.

Thousands of athletes from more than 30 countries will swim, bike, and run through Louisville during the annual 140.6-mile race. And for the first time in two years, professional athlete’s will compete.

The Las Vegas massacre was the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, killing 58 and injuring nearly 500. Louisville-native Chrisanna Roberts was there. She told WFPL the scene was “sheer terror” as she ran and watched bullets hit people around her.

The Ironman Louisville event begins with a swim across the Ohio River Sunday at 7 a.m.

Louisville Habitat, Google Fiber Partner To Build A House In Portland Thursday, Oct 12 2017 

Louisville’s Habitat for Humanity found a wealthy donor in Google Fiber.

The tech company donated $45,000 to the nonprofit to build a house in Louisville’s Portland neighborhood, where Habitat has built or renovated nearly a hundred homes.

Habitat CEO Rob Locke said donations and fundraisers normally support Habitat’s housing projects. Google Fiber, Locke said, would be a welcome addition to the West End. He said Louisville has underinvested in the west for years.

“It’s not difficult to walk through Portland, Russell, California and see that there are sidewalks that are deteriorated, that there’s real infrastructure — when you think about roads and things that are the foundational part of the neighborhood — that they’re in disrepair,” Locke said.

Kyeland Jackson | wfpl.org

The house in progress.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that infrastructure, small business, are crucial parts to that puzzle as well to help people in neighborhoods grow into all that God intends.”

Habitat chooses recipients through an application and vetting process. That process mandates an applicant earn between 30 and 80 percent of the area’s median income, show a need for improved housing, commit 400 volunteer hours and show they can repay the home’s mortgage. Habitat is currently building in neighborhoods such as Shelby Park, Iroquois and Smoketown.

City officials announced in June that Portland would be the first Louisville neighborhood to get Google Fiber. After contentious debate, Metro Council opted to fully fund Mayor Greg Fischer’s $5.4 million proposal to build out a fiber internet network across Jefferson County — beginning with a stretch in West Louisville.

Some residents and council members questioned funding for the project and whether it will help the Portland neighborhood. So far, work to bury cables has reportedly started in the Highlands, Portland and Newburg neighborhoods.

Experts Question Economic Analysis Behind Butchertown Soccer Stadium Wednesday, Oct 11 2017 

The decision earlier this week to delay a vote on a financing piece of a planned soccer stadium development in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood will likely make time for skeptical city leaders to scrutinize the deal.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a news release Tuesday the postponement would “give the Metro Council additional time for review.”

Some of those questions will likely focus on the legitimacy of an economic impact study submitted to the council last week. The study was paid for by the soccer team and says the project would bring millions in added tax revenue and thousands of jobs.

But some experts say the predictions are unrealistic.

And others question the study’s integrity because it was completed by a company with close ties to city officials. That company could also stand to benefit if the development goes through.

Frank Scott, an economics professor at the University of Kentucky, suggested the relationship could pose a conflict of interest.

“That might call into question the credibility of the research purporting to justify spending public money on this project,” he said.

Councilman Kevin Kramer said it’s these types of issues that concern him about the project.

“There’s something there that someone doesn’t want us to find,” he said. “I just don’t know what it is.”

Substantial Economic Benefits — At Least On Paper

City officials, soccer team executives and fans have clamored for a dedicated soccer stadium for two years.

The team — Louisville City FC — plays in the United Soccer League, a second-professional league behind Major League Soccer. They play home games at Louisville Slugger field, but soccer executives claim the agreement to play there is not sustainable.

Mike Mountjoy, one of the team’s owners, told a Metro Council committee earlier this month the team “lose[s] money every time we play.”

To remedy this, team officials have lobbied for a soccer-specific stadium since they began playing in Louisville.

And now, that project is close to being reality. Fischer announced last month he’d commit $30 million in city funds to purchase the land needed for the stadium and prep the site for construction.

The plan calls for a 15-acre soccer stadium in Butchertown near Interstate 64, as well as retail, office space and a hotel. In all, the project is expected to cost about $200 million, according the development plan submitted to Metro Council.

And on paper, the overall economic benefit to the city is substantial.

An analysis prepared by Commonwealth Economics in September and presented to the council earlier this month found the stadium project could support more than 2,400 “statewide jobs” each year once complete.

In addition, the project would yield about $1.8 billion in labor income and more than $260 million in added state and local tax revenue in a 20-year period, according to the study.

Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, who is sponsoring the legislation to advance the stadium development, praised these figures and called the project a “no-brainer.”

“I’m very interested in the jobs,” she said. “I’m very interested in the tax revenue.”

But experts in stadium development question the projections.

Holy Cross College economics professor Victor Matheson said he’s not surprised the impact analysis presented a rosy outlook.

“Because I expect for-profit sports team owners to generate absurdly high economic estimate numbers in order to con gullible city council members into granting subsidies,” he said.

Matheson, who is also associate editor of the Journal of Sports Economics, said the 20-year revenue projections likely rely on the ability of the team and its ownership to foster a Major League Soccer franchise in the coming years.

“But that is a long-shot for Louisville,” Matheson said, even with a brand-new soccer stadium. He noted that other cities like Cincinnati, Sacramento and San Antonio are better poised to attract a major league club.

Regardless of whether Louisville ends up landing an MLS franchise, it’s important to note these types of economic impact studies are difficult to get right, said Chris Bollinger, the director of the center of business and economic research at the University of Kentucky.

Bollinger said researchers in this particular study are relying on certain assumptions to ensure their revenues projections are realized — like taking for granted that the popularity of soccer will remain steady, or even grow.

“Which is tenuous,” he said.

Bollinger said researchers also assume the team will stay in Louisville for 20 years, which isn’t guaranteed.

Another key question is where the promised stadium revenue is coming from.

Bollinger said for revenues to grow in one area of town, they’ll likely drag in another. For instance, if people are spending more money at soccer games, they’re not spending money somewhere else.

“All you’re doing is moving money from one part of Louisville to another part of Louisville,” he said.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said city leaders are confident in the projections offered by Commonwealth Economics.

Casey Bolton, a partner with Commonwealth Economics, said in an interview Wednesday the projections included in the study “are fair and conservative.”

“There are a lot of assumptions in that report,” he said. “We’re certainly not saying this project will guarantee those types of impacts.”

Conflict Of Interest?

When it comes to navigating the complexities of financial structures like tax increment financing, bonds or public-private partnerships, Louisville officials often turn to the experts at Commonwealth Economics.

The Lexington-based firm specializes in these areas, and the company’s website touts decades of experience in bond analysis and “a keen understanding” of complicated financial frameworks.

The group’s founder, John R. Farris, once served as Kentucky’s Secretary of Finance and “helped draft the state’s new (tax increment financing) law in 2007,” according to Commonwealth Economics’ website.

Their client list includes some of the biggest public and private entities in the state — including the University of Louisville Foundation, Frost Brown Todd and the University of Kentucky.

The Louisville Downtown Development Corporation and Louisville Forward — the city’s economic development department — are also clients.

City data show Louisville Metro government has paid Commonwealth Economics $362,000 since 2013. In August, the group was approved for a non-compete annual contract that promises at least $108,000 to provide “financial advice and counseling on complex financial arrangements, deal structures and tax increment financing.”

At a Metro Council committee meeting to consider the contract, Laura Ferguson — an assistant director within the city’s economic development department — said Commonwealth Economics brings a “wealth of knowledge” in evaluating financial deals and structuring bonds.

Ferguson said the group has helped city officials navigate a number of complex financial deals, including those involving the Omni Hotel, the city’s parking authority and the soccer stadium project.

“We get them involved early so we have the advice that we need,” Ferguson said.

Because of this contract, Commonwealth Economics will likely be involved if Louisville City FC’s stadium project goes forward. That’s why having the company prepare the project’s economic impact study at the behest of the team is potentially problematic, said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at Common Cause, an ethics watchdog group.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right,” Ryan said.

Representatives of Fischer’s office and Commonwealth Economics say there’s no conflict of interest in having Commonwealth prepare the project’s economic analysis.

Fischer spokesman Chris Poynter said “there’s no conflict from our point of view.”

Casey Bolton, a partner with Commonwealth Economics, said he doesn’t see a conflict either. He said the group works for a retainer fee and receives no added compensation for bond sales.

“That would be an incorrect assumption for anybody to think that we stand to benefit from recommending this one way or another,” he said.

But he did acknowledge how one could perceive such a conflict.

“Yeah,” he said. “We work for both parties.”

Asked about the potential conflict of interest, Councilwoman Sexton Smith said “that’s a very good question.”

“It could be posed for a legal opinion,” she said.

Councilman Kramer, who is skeptical about the deal, said the potential for Commonwealth Economics to profit shouldn’t restrict the company’s participation in examining the project.

He said if Commonwealth Economics is providing accurate estimates, and not estimates that will ensure the project is approved, there should be no problem.

“But if they’re only in it for profit, that’s a problem,” he said.

Metro Council is set to vote on whether to approve $30 million in bonds for the project on October 26.

Disclosure: Louisville City FC is privately owned by 47 investors. Two of those, Gill Holland and José Donis, are Louisville Public Media board members.

Vote On Butchertown Soccer Stadium Delayed Tuesday, Oct 10 2017 

A  Louisville Metro Council vote on a proposed $30 million bond issue to buy land for a new soccer stadium in the Butchertown neighborhood has been delayed.

Mayor Greg Fischer, Metro Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith and the Louisville City Football Club jointly announced this morning that the vote has been postponed until Oct. 26 to give the council more time to review the proposal.

The Metro Council’s budget committee approved the plan last week.

Under the proposal, the bond issue would purchase the property for Louisville City to build a $50 million stadium.  It would anchor a larger $200 million mixed use development in the area.

The soccer club would be responsible for the entire cost of the stadium and would pay the city for roughly half the cost of the land over 20 years.    Officials have said that Louisville City needs its own stadium in order to move up to the major league level in soccer.

Training Program Helps Louisville Immigrants In Manufacturing Saturday, Oct 7 2017 

There can be plenty of roadblocks when planning the next step in a career. But for some of Louisville’s immigrants, there’s an added barrier of language access.

Manufacturing Training for English Language Learners, or M-TELL, is a free three-week training course that aims to help the city’s immigrants overcome barriers, and get into managerial roles in manufacturing.

About a dozen immigrants from countries including Ecuador, Togo, Liberia and Haiti attended an M-TELL graduation ceremony Friday morning at the Kentucky Manufacturing Career Center. 

The curriculum includes learning English terms in manufacturing and safety. That was important for 25-year-old graduate Daniel Ngendahayo. The language aspect was important, but so was the certificate itself to prove to potential employers that he can do things like operate a forklift.

Daniel Ngendahayo Roxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Daniel Ngendahayo

“This is something that is widening the scope of the opportunities that I would be able to get,” he said. The connection to instructors and future employers is also significant for him.

This was the second M-TELL class to graduate. The pilot course was in April and graduated 14 students.

Essaid Benzzi (pictured top right), from Morocco, has lived in Louisville for one year and graduated from the first class. He had training in the HVAC industry in Morocco and learned about M-TELL from English classes at the Americana Community Center. He said he hopes to advance in his career in his new home.

For Laurendy Summerville, from Liberia, the three-week course wasn’t so much about language access. She took the course as a jumping off point to transition into manufacturing.

Laurendy SummervilleRoxanne Scott | wfpl.org

Laurendy Summerville

“Because I want to grow into it, so it’s just an entry level for me with this certificate,” she said.

The certificate program is a collaboration between Louisville Metro’s KentuckianaWorks and the Office of Globalization. The next class will be in March 2018.

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