Leaders past and present celebrate Great Lawn 20th Anniversary

Waterfront Park's Great Lawn celebrates 20 years

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - It’s come a long way in 20 years. From a scrap yard to a beautiful green space for Louisville to enjoy, serving as a great first impression for visitors.

Friday, the Great Lawn at Waterfront Park celebrated 20 years in existence with city and county officials from the past and present, including former Jefferson County Judge Executive Rebecca Jackson and former Kentucky Lieutenant Governor and Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.

Abramson remembered the ugly sand, gravel and scrap metal eyesore the area once was,

“The truckers, when they used to come over the bridge, called this ‘Junktown’,” he said.

“This part of town was basically off limits to virtually everybody," Congressman John Yarmuth added.

Now it’s the exact opposite, a beautiful community gathering place that welcomes visitors with a wow.

“It’s the emerald green necklace around Louisville and the Olmstead parks,” Abramson said.

It was Abramson who made the announcement in the early 1990′s: The city was acquiring the waterfront property owned by Klempner Scrap Metal. The $58 million Phase One included a public plaza, great lawn and a children’s play area. Local, state, federal and private money paid for the eventual three phases of the 85 acre park. The Great Lawn was its signature piece.

“This is where everybody’s going to gather, this is where all the events take place,” Louisville Waterfront Development Corporation President David Karem explained.

Today, Forecastle brings people from all over the world to Louisville and a new study says it's bringing plenty of money here too.
Today, Forecastle brings people from all over the world to Louisville and a new study says it's bringing plenty of money here too.

It’s the destination for 150 events every year, from Forecastle to Ironman. For Karem, celebrating the milestone with past and present leaders and Brown School students, who weren’t even born when the idea was conceived, is what it’s all about.

“I think the thing we are happiest about,” Karem explained, “is the way the park is used. It’s used by every corner of the community.”

It’s also a tourist draw--an economic impact study found that 24 percent of people who use the park are from outside the region.

As for the future? Phase 4, AKA, One Waterfront Park, is underway.

Phase four of Waterfront Park will include an exercise space, observation pier, learning area and plaza.
Phase four of Waterfront Park will include an exercise space, observation pier, learning area and plaza. (Waterfront Development Corporation)

The effort is a way to create connectivity on 22 acres from 9th to 15th Streets and elevate one of the most beautiful and historic areas in town. State budget cuts always make the goal of paying for the expansion a little bit harder, but a group is actively working on fundraising. The city is working with the Science Center on some of the Phase 4 attractions and a cleanup of the new site is happening there on Saturday, October 20.

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