Much like the park it overlooks, the Waterfront Development Corporation’s headquarters at 129 River Road has had its space converted to new uses in response to the changing face of waterfront life. Originally meant as a replacement office building for the Ohio River Sand Company, whose right-of-way was overrun by the construction of the then brand new Interstate 64, the building has become a quirky downtown Louisville landmark.
Built by the architectural firm of Hartstern, Louis and Henry, the building was intended to be “a showcase for the raw materials Ohio River Sand furnishes the building industry.” Over the years it has certainly performed its intended function, as millions of motorists and tourists every year get to see the odd cantilevered office perched precariously at the water’s edge.
The building’s broad windowed floors extend 13 feet over the sidewalk side and 19 over the wharf side, shadowing the spot that once held tables for weighing the trucks that carried sand to and from the ORSC’s yards. Supporting the slab concrete overhang are two-foot-thick beams of reinforced concrete that almost entirely wrap the office floors.
The third floor of the building, where Waterfront keeps its offices, has several odd features, most notably the heavy steel vault that serves now as WDC’s file room, but once held thousands of dollars safely inside on heavy business days for ORSC’s cash only establishment.
Established in 1986, the Waterfront Development Corporation (WDC) plans, coordinates and implements strategies to revitalize Louisville’s Waterfront. WDC was created by an interlocal agreement between Jefferson County, the City of Louisville (now Louisville Metro), and the Commonwealth of Kentucky to oversee redevelopment of Louisville’s waterfront from a blighted and underutilized area into a vibrant, active area. The result is Waterfront Park, which has improved the quality of life of Louisville residents and has also been a catalyst for business and residential redevelopment in the Waterfront District and connecting areas of downtown Louisville.
WDC relies heavily on private and public donations to fund the construction of Waterfront Park. Government funding supports day-to-day operations and park maintenance, and to a significantly lesser degree, lease and event income helps defray some expenses.
Before the creation of WDC in 1986, Louisville’s downtown waterfront area, from Ohio River south to Main Street and between the Clark Memorial and Kennedy Bridges, was filled with abandoned or underutilized land and buildings. The waterfront area was one of the most unattractive parts of the city.
In 1991, the Louisville Waterfront Master Plan was adopted by city ordinance, and this document has guided the design and development of Waterfront Park and the surrounding Waterfront neighborhood. The Waterfront District that was once a heavy industrial wasteland cut off from the city now boasts more than 6000 employees, major residential developments, and the trickle down effect in surrounding areas of restaurants, entertainment venues, galleries, support retail, and an abundance of new residential and office space.
With the first two phases complete and Phase III under construction, Waterfront Park attracts more than 1.5 million visitors every year for festivals, concerts, charity walks, picnics, weddings, and every day usage — walkers, joggers, folks playing frisbee or touch football, families enjoying the playgrounds, and those who come just to relax and enjoy the river.
The park has garnered international acclaim, receiving several national design and environmental awards, and media coverage in newspapers and magazines worldwide. One recent accolade that is quite a feather in the cap for our community is the ULI’s designation in 2006 of Waterfront Park as one of the Top Ten Urban Parks in the nation. Waterfront Park has won a number of awards, and in 2006 was named one of the Top Ten Urban Parks in the nation by the Urban Land Institute.