By Connie Leonard
(LOUISVILLE) -- It's a Louisville neighborhood known for it's Kentucky Derby Heritage. But, an increase in crime and a growing number of abandoned business in the last few years made it an area that people began to avoid. But as WAVE 3 Investigator Connie Leonard reports, things are changing at Bashford Manor, thanks to a group of people who decided to take back their neighborhood.
Normally, when a store opens in a neighborhood, it's no big deal.
But on Wednesday, it was a big deal.
"I tell you it's phenomenal," said Lowe's General Manager Lamont Sanders. Everybody's just coming in here and can't wait for us to open up our doors."
How often does a big chain like Lowe's provide barbecue dinner, and even set up a booth for the Neighborhood Association to show off its storied history -- in this case, the horse racing legacy of the Bashford Manor farm?
And how often is a store packed with customers, a full day "before" it's official opening?
"It's great isn't it, it's wonderful, we're just so happy about it!" said Bashford Manor Neighborhood Association President Donna Ising.
But just a few years ago, it wasn't so great, when the Bashford Manor Mall went under.
"It sat vacant here for several years," said Metro Councilman Jim King, who lives in the 10th district.
Neighbors feared the old empty buildings were an invitation to crime. "There were things in the neighborhood that we weren't happy about," added resident Joan Hedges.
Right after things started going downhill in the business sector, West Buechel and nearby Newburg experienced a surge of violence.
Within a few months, there were nine shootings in the Newburg area.
More than a year later, a friend of Ising's was shot and killed just down the street. "We just wanted to be able, as a neighborhood, to bring this area back up again," she said.
So Ising and others fought hard to get city officials to recruit businesses like Target, Wal-Mart and Lowe's.
Their efforts paid off.
Businesses not only moved in but preserved old trees and planted new ones, stepped up lighting and even put up history markers, highlighting Bashford Manor's three Kentucky Derby winners.
And Louisville and West Buechel Police increased patrols.
"They have made a fantastic effort at stemming crime in this area," King said, "and really, I think, ran it out of here."
Students started showing up in the area, too. Assumption High School added a recreation and training field behind the businesses, as did Louisville Collegiate.
"We feel enthusiasm coming back," Hedges said, "and we see a lot of families with small children coming back moving back to the neighborhood, and I think that's always a good sign.
Other new construction has also begun around the old mall. Councilman King says when people feel better about their neighborhood, it makes them want to take care of it, which is only going to continue to reduce crime, and increase the tax base.
Neighbors also say that with the many older homes in the area, Lowe's will be a welcome addition to the community.
The store officially opened September 29th.
Online Reporter: Connie Leonard