By: Sheldon Shafer • The Courier Journal • December 5, 2011

Twenty-two years after plans were first announced and more than three years after the most recent round of work was shelved, officials marked the resumption of construction Monday on the massive RiverPark Place project just upriver from Waterfront Park.

Rain sent a planned ground-breaking for a 166-apartment building indoors. The housing is to go near where work on a 150-slip marina is well under way.

The marina is expected to be ready for boaters in April — about the same time as a 3,000-foot extension of a 16-foot wide, asphalt and concrete promenade is completed through the development site. The pathway will link Waterfront Park to the west with Beargrass Creek and Eva Bandman Park to the east.

“This has been a long-anticipated project,” Mayor Greg Fischer said of RiverPark Place. “It will be a fantastic place to live and a great boost for us economically….I think it will quickly become one of the hotspots of the city.”

Fischer, along with Steve Poe, the lead developer of RiverPark Place, and David Karem, president of the Waterfront Development Corp., which manages Waterfront Park, presided at a news conference at the soon-to-open RiverPark Place sales office at 1250 River Road, just across from the development area.

Plans for developing the prime riverfront parcel, about 40 acres, date to the late 1980s, when a previous investment group first proposed a mixed-use project called FallsHarbor. It never materialized after many years of trying, and the Poe-led group, called River Partners LLC, was granted development rights by the waterfront agency in 2004.

Poe shelved his group’s effort in early 2008 amid the stagnant economy and because of difficulty in obtaining financing — but only after spending about $16 million on initial marina work and also on extensive design and site work and on engineering and environmental studies. The investors recently resumed work on the marina.

In noting the construction getting under way on the housing, Karem said, “Good things come to those who wait, and wait….and wait….and wait.”

In an interview Poe said about 20 of the marina slips have already been commited for sale, for $30,000 to $80,000 each. He said only about 20 more will be sold, with the rest to be rented for $2,200 to $4,100 a year.

Federal and state tax credits, sold to U.S. Bank, are providing about $4.5 milion in equity toward the marina’s construction, while Poe’s new partner in RiverPark Place, the REI real estate investment company based in Indianapolis, has agreed to fund most of the rest of the marina cost.

Poe said the apartments, which will be built atop a parking garage to elevate the housing above the flood plain, should be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2013. He said the project will provide at least 300 construction jobs.

The apartments will rent for $625 to $1,400 a month. The building will cost about $20 million, with the construction loan provided by Harris Bank of Chicago, Poe said.

Housing construction beyond the first building will be driven by market demand. But Poe has predicted that a second apartment building should follow fairly soon.

The long-range plan calls for more than 1,000 dwellings on the site over the next decade, including two condominium towers, along with ground-level commercial space for several restaurants, shops and offices as well as extensive park space.

Poe’s group has agreed with the Army Corps of Engineers not to build in several areas that may have archeological significance.

The RiverPark place architects are K. Norman Berry of Louisville and Goody Clancy of Boston.

Other Poe partners are accountant Nolen Allen and his family, investor Mike Ehrler and his family and the family of the late businessman Clyde Ensor.