Site gets new life as center for child-abuse victims
By Deborah Yetter • September 7, 2009
A local agency plans to renovate the old Salvation Army building at Fifth and Kentucky streets to create a one-stop center for victims of child abuse that would be the first of its kind in the state.
The project would give Family & Children’s Place, which now operates in cramped downtown quarters off Fourth Street, more space for its services, as well as the entire Louisville Metro Police Department Crimes Against Children Unit and others involved in the investigation and prosecution of sex offenses against children.
Dan Fox, president of Family & Children’s Place, said the effort will improve his agency’s ability to serve children, while also upgrading a building that has been vacant since the Salvation Army moved out last year.
“From a neighborhood standpoint and a community standpoint, it will enhance that corner dramatically,” said Fox, whose agency has already raised $2 million of the project’s estimated $6 million cost.
Lt. Col. Troy Riggs, assistant chief of the Louisville Metro Police Department, said the department likes the idea of moving the 25-member Crimes Against Children Unit to the block and is trying to work out details, including a lease.
Fox said the goal is to have police use the city-owned parking on one side of the Salvation Army building and staff from his agency would use the lot on the other side.
He hopes to be moved in by next summer and the agency wants to raise an additional $5.3 million to help with operating costs and create an endowment.
Protest against plan
But one part of the plan has hit a snag with some area residents, who object to proposed changes to the block-long Ben Washer Park on the opposite side of Kentucky between Fifth and Sixth streets.
Family & Children’s Place wants to lease the 2-acre park from the city for $1 a year, renovate and enlarge a vacant, run-down building on the property for offices and add parking space along the site. Fox said the agency hasn’t decided where to put parking but will work with the neighborhood on that issue.
Although the agency offered to upgrade the park’s playground equipment, provide more landscaping and keep it open to the public, some Old Louisville residents don’t like the idea of a private agency having control of the park, said Herb Fink, with the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council.
“We want to preserve our parks in Old Louisville and not give them away for $1,” said Fink, who is chairman of the council’s property improvement committee.
Fink said the group also objects to additional parking space at the park – although it already includes a large paved lot behind the vacant building at 535 W. Kentucky. The city said it has no money to renovate the empty, boarded-up building.
“We’ve been pushing to have that building renovated,” Fink said.
Some nearby delighted
Dan Stewart, whose business in a historic former African-American schoolhouse at Sixth and Kentucky streets faces the park, said he would like to see the empty building renovated and occupied.
Meanwhile, he’s delighted that Family & Children’s Place has purchased the former Salvation Army site, which has been empty since last year, and plans to upgrade the property.
“I’m just thrilled,” said Stewart, who operates his marketing business, Stewart & Associates, out of the historic structure he bought and restored in 1982. “I couldn’t be happier to have neighbors that are going to do something that will serve the public good.”
“Fox said that while the park portion of the plan isn’t essential, it would enhance the block through renovation of the empty building, providing additional parking and allowing the agency to upgrade a park accessible to the public as well as children and families visiting the agency.
“I think we’ll be able to maintain the park better than the city does,” he said. “It could be a beautiful place.”
Site part of local history
The park was established in 1952 after Ben Washer, a prominent Louisville lawyer, donated the two-story brick building and site to the city for recreational use. Washer, in a deed restriction that affects the house, specified it be used for “public welfare,” said Jason Cissell, a spokesman for the Louisville Metro Parks Department.
He said city officials think that could include use by Family & Children’s Place.
“We do believe that children’s services or social services meet the definition of the deed restriction,” he said.
The building initially housed the city’s “Better Homes Service” which provided assistance with cooking, sewing, canning and other homemaking skills. More recently, it housed a senior center, but has been vacant since the center moved about four years ago, Cissell said.
He said the city has no money to renovate the building, which needs “some costly repairs.”
The city would consider leasing it to Family & Children’s Place, Cissell said – with assurances the park would remain open to the public.
“The public park and recreational function has to remain,” he said.
Fink said the Old Louisville council hasn’t taken a formal position on the Family & Children’s Place project because it plans to participate in a community assessment of the project next month led by city planning officials.
Fox said he believes the assessment might help resolve any differences over the proposal.
“Our goal is to work through the issue and come up with something that works,” he said.
Child aid workers glad
Meanwhile, those involved with the agency that serves about 1,000 children a year from Jefferson and six surrounding counties, said that they are pleased the center has found a new location other than the one off Fourth Street, which has little parking and is accessible only through an alley behind a strip club.
It also will save families from having to go from one office to another because all services will be at one site, Fox said.
Dorislee Gilbert, an assistant Jefferson commonwealth’s attorney who prosecutes child abuse cases, said she is delighted with the prospect of a new, larger location with ample parking, trees and grass and a nearby park.
“I think it’s fabulous,” Gilbert said.
Reporter Deborah Yetter can be reached at (502) 582-4228.