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Teenager's killing is reminder that Smoketown's on the bubble; rising or battleground

Published: Aug. 25, 2016 at 9:39 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 26, 2016 at 12:45 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The pork ribs at Shirley Mae's Cafe & Bar are wood-smoked to a succulence so tender they almost fall off the bone.

"The old-fashioned way, nothing is [sic] freezed," Shirley Mae Simpson told WAVE 3 News.

Soul food and southern comforts.

"We tell time by pinto beans," Simpson's daughter Teri added. "If I'm not up and they're not in by 5 a.m., I'm late."

The Simpsons' Smoketown restaurant has reached iconic status after 28 years.

"I just watched generation after generation, grow up here," Shirley Mae Simpson said. "What we had last night, we've never had. Everybody knew each other."

Troyvonte Hurt, 14, was shot dead Wednesday night. Two more were wounded only two blocks north at Clay and Jacob streets.

"Now what it seems like is the outsiders coming in," Simpson said. "It's chaos."

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"One of my Board members told be that he believes there's been an upsurge in crime," said Randy Webber, president of the Smoketown Neighborhood Association. "I've not seen the numbers to dispute or refute that."

Three summers ago, WAVE 3 News Investigative Reporter John Boel documented the open market for drug dealing yards away from where Hurt was slain.

The demolition, rebuilding, weeding and re-seeding of the multi-acre Sheppard Square from public housing to a mixed-income and subsidized complex seemed only to have moved buyers and sellers only a few feet to the left.

"With that much money and that many narcotics there's going to be people out there with weapons," Metro Narcotics LT J.T. Duncan told WAVE 3 News in 2013.

"(Hurt's) death represents our life here on Earth," said Barbara Sexton Smith, the Democrat who faces no opposition in November's elections to become the voice for Smoketown, Shelby Park, NuLu and the Central Business District on Metro Council. "What are we gonna do? Is there gonna be another one?"

A sculpture forming an outline of boxing gloves, stands in a center portion of Sheppard Square that's still under construction. It's a monument to a young Cassius with name and feet of Clay, a reminder that Smoketown is where he began boxing his way to Olympic gold and becoming the Greatest of All Time, the late Muhammad Ali.

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Smoketown now floats like a bubble; will it be a battleground, or the next NuLu or Germantown?

"The number one thing I think we need to do is look within the Smoketown community," Sexton Smith said. "There are some phenomenal folks living right here."

She's calling for Metro Government and banks in WAVE Country to partner in a micro-loan program to provide start-up money for Smoketown residents to open businesses.

Simpson built Shirley Mae's Cafe with more sweat equity than capital. Three generations cook, cashier, remodel and soon, will book acts. Simpson wants to offer live bands, especially blues.

"(New businesses) need to come in and look around and visit the neighborhood and check it out first," she said.

"We know we're gonna have to walk a line," Webber said. "Some development is necessary, but it needs to be controlled in such a way that our traditional residents can afford to stay here."

Webber, Sexton Smith and Simpson all would like to see more protection, but achieving more police presence is easier than determining what presence is most effective.

"You have new people that don't know you, that have to get to know you," Simpson said.

"I can only hope that (LMPD) will try to develop appropriate relationships in the community, and work with us in a way that doesn't antagonize the residents," Webber said.

Simpson believes the recipe is no secret, be you law enforcement, entrepreneur, long-time resident or homesteading newcomer.

"Be honest, be fair, be concerned," she said. "Stand up for what's right. Be a lady. Be a role model."

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