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Waterfront Park, Belle of Louisville hope to fill funding gaps with Metro budget requests

Published: Jun. 9, 2021 at 11:59 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 12:30 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Two classic Louisville attractions, Waterfront Park and The Belle of Louisville, hope to fill funding gaps when Metro Council approves Mayor Greg Fischer’s fiscal year 2021-2022 budget.

In a budget hearing Wednesday, officials explained funding shortfalls with council members.

Waterfront Park Development Corporation President Deborah Bilitski said park usage was “heavy” amid the pandemic even without large events.

“Park usage remained consistently heavy with 50 to 10,000 people using the Big Four Bridge each month in the pleasant months,” she said. “When nothing was open and there was nowhere else to go, Waterfront Park was here for the community and people flocked here day in and day out by the thousands to be by the river and connect with the community in a safe way when we were otherwise feeling so very isolated.”

Although the park remained busy, Bilitski said there was no revenue from park events, and other normal revenue sources suffered as well. The park lost a total net earned revenue of $755,000 over the past two fiscal years. Bilitski explained 30% or $300,000 per year of Metro funding was cut from the park’s budget in the 2020 fiscal year, deepening “the deficit already caused by COVID.”

To further the issue, Bilitski said Waterfront Park was not eligible for federal COVID relief as it is considered a government entity.

As large events return to the park, revenue is expected to increase but officials are seeking more help.

“We do anticipate a significant increase for fiscal year 2021,” Bilitski said. “This will help our financial picture in the upcoming year, but even with optimistic projections for donations we will still be operating at a significant deficit.”

The mayor’s recommended budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022 asks for $747,000 for Waterfront Park. It also asks for $4 million for the park’s planned ‘Phase IV” expansion into West Louisville starting with an interactive playground called “PlayWorks.”

The mayor’s recommended budget also asks for $975,000 for the Belle of Louisville; the steamboat already received more than $700,000 in emergency funding in April.

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