By  Sheldon S. Shafer • • November 2, 2010

The on-again-off-again RiverPark Place housing and marina project along the Ohio River is poised to resume construction in the spring after 21 12 years of inactivity, according to its backers, who say they’ve arranged new financing for it. City and waterfront officials have been pushing for development of the 40-acre riverside tract, opposite Towhead Island and just upriver from Waterfront Park, for two decades. But the latest effort – by River Partners LLC, headed by Louisville developer Steve Poe of the Poe Cos. – was shelved in early 2008, after the flagging housing market quashed plans for a $75 million bank loan for construction.

The project shutdown came after the partners had invested $17 million, mostly for studies and construction of infrastructure, including a seawall, about half of the marina, pilings for elevated parking, water lines and sewers, as well as preliminary roadwork and grading, Poe said. Poe said the partners never stopped trying to restart the project, and he noted that, “The plans have not changed.” The new financing plan includes $6.5 million in  federal New Market tax credits obtained recently through the non-profit Community Ventures of Lexington, he said, noting that investors who buy the credits will receive a tax break that will, in turn , generate about $1.7 million in capital that can be applied toward RiverPark Place’s development costs.

Poe said the partners also have tentatively arranged for a $4.5 million conventional loan with a Louisville bank, which he declined to identify until the deal is signed. He predicted that would be within 90 days. Poe said the loan and tax credits combined will provide about $6.3 million that the partners will use to complete construction of the 149-slip marina, an access road to the marina, some parking, and a wide promenade along the riverfront between Waterfront and Eva Bandman parks. He said he expected construction to begin anew no later than next spring, with the marina finished by year’s end.

Poe said his group also is making progress in finding financing for the first RiverPark Place housing, a low-rise apartment building that would have about 160 units, renting for around $550 up to $1, 300 a month.
The RiverPark Place development agreement with the Waterfront Development Corp. requires the eventual construction of a minimum of 600 dwellings, an unspecified mix of apartments and condominiums, said Mike Kimmel, a waterfront agency spokesman. David Karem, executive director of the agency, said the corporation’s board of directors has been impressed with the Poe group’s persistence in pursuing the project. RiverPark Place, he said, “is the bestsite for a marina in Louisville. The location is close to downtown, very accessible for boaters and exceptionally beautiful, being adjacent to Waterfront Park.”

Poe called the riverside tract “one of the best housing sites in the Midwest.” Poe said the marina slips will sell for $40,000 to $75,000. Before the project was shut down, about 50 of the slips were secured with deposits; all but about 20 asked for, and received, refunds. The partners plan to start marketing the marina again in early November. The partners also had refunded deposits on about 70 planned condominiums, units selling for $139,000 to $750,OOO. Poe said, adding that those sales Poe said those sales efforts will resume in the spring. He expressed optimism that work on the first 160-unit apartment building could begin in 2011, with some of the units available for occupancy in 2012.

Poe said the developers won’t commit to building any condominiums until the housing market rights itself. Poe’s partners are investor Mike Ehrler and his family; accountant Nolen Allen and his family; and the family of the late businessman Clyde Ensor, who was an original partner. The architects are K. Norman Berry of Louisville and Goody Clancy of Boston. The city and the waterfront agency, which owns the land, first designated the property near Towhead Island for development around 1990. The city spent millions of dollars relocating River Road and a railroad and closed Thruston Park to provide land for the development. An initial group called Falls Harbor tried unsuccessfully for years to develop the site but they never were able to secure financing.

The effort of Poe’s group, which signed an initial agreement to develop the site in 2004, was stalled for several years by archeological digs that uncovered some prehistoric human remains and artifacts. The developers since have set aside about eight acres as a no-dig area in deference to the remains. The development agreement, which Karem said will have to be modified to include new deadlines, requires that the Poe group restore the
historic Paget House on the site, probably as a community room or sales office.

Reporter Sheldon S. Shafer can be reached at (502) 582-7089.