Louisville Magazine

AUG 2014

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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Page 64 of 148

46 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.14 First absorbed, then ignored by the City of Louisville for 175 years, Portland badly needs revitalizing input. But can the well-intentioned eforts of "outsiders" overcome the neighborhood's suspicions about gentrifcation? We drive by a church on West Market, and Owen says, "Tis is the second St. Patrick's church. You see the shamrocks in the windows? Te frst was torn down for a parking lot. Tis is the second. It's a Louisville landmark. We got it listed as a Louisville landmark." "Who is we?" I ask. "Oh, a few of the parishioners, Portland Now, some other people," he says. A couple weeks earlier, I met with Portland Now, a group of residents and activists that represents Portland. "You can talk to John Owen," members told me. "Just don't trust what he says." So I called him. We talked for nearly an hour, Owen listing solutions to Portland's prob- lems as if reading a shopping list. He knew the neighbor- hood. He cared about the neighborhood. I had no idea what his true goals were. I still don't. I drove to his house. He got into my car like he'd known me for years, saying hello in his low, rumbling voice. He leaned back in the seat and cracked the window. His white hair was slicked to one side, motionless in the breeze. His face looked worn and tired. He smiled. T he rain comes on harder. I can't see to drive. "Pull over here," Owen says. Te street beyond my windshield looks like dull watercolors. I ease the car behind a blurry pickup truck. To my left, a big horseshoe-shaped sign hangs of a building. It's a bar, the Cavalier. Owen tells me that a gambler bought it after a good day at Churchill Downs and named it Lucky's Tav- ern, hence the sign. I fgure anywhere dry is lucky. "We'll make a mad dash inside," Owen says, but a shufe is the best he's got. We get under the big lucky sign and out of the rain, soaking wet. "You're about to meet some real Portlanders," Owen says. He opens the door. "Real Portlanders" implies that there are fake Portland- ers, meaning newcomers. One man I met earlier who's lived in Portland for years told me how to spot them. "Look for the ones who wear helmets on bicycles. No way they're from Portland," he said before I could ask. Everyone knows why reporters are annoying people across the neighborhood: East Ender Gill Holland is polishing Portland. In March, after helping turn East Market Street into NuLu, Holland moved from his Green Building to the former Portland Boys and Girl's Club, renamed it the Anchor Building and formed the Portland Investment Initiative. PII has a long-term, multimillion-dollar plan for the neighborhood. It goes something like this: Portland Avenue Stroll District LLC will bring new business to the Portland Avenue area; Artist Row Portland LLC will focus on revitalizing shotgun houses to increase homeowner- ship, with Shine Contracting in charge of the construc- tion. Tere are also plans for Shippingport, involving food production and apartments. Holland successfully pitched Portland's old warehouse district to the Tim Faulkner Gallery and the Louisville Film Society. He persuaded Karter Louis of the restaurant Hillbilly Tea to open a new location in the old frehouse on Portland Avenue. "Pork & pone" should hit Portland he rain comes on fast, steaming of the cracked pavement in the June heat. "Tis damn weath- er," John Owen says from my passenger seat. "Keep going unless you can't see." He's giving me a guided tour of Louisville's Portland neighbor- hood. It's a big place, extending from 10th Street to beyond the Shawnee Expressway and from Market Street to the Ohio. We pass rows of dilapidated houses, the streets a swamp of spray paint and plywood. Owen says we're in one of the worst parts of the neighborhood, the eastern end. But he's said that elsewhere. Te nice part, he says, is farther west. Tis sounds like a paradox to my Louisville sensibilities. If you live outside the West End, you probably harbor a reverse manifest destiny: stay east. Owen spits of three historical facts for every place we pass: "Tis was a pharmacy." "Tis is the original city graveyard for Louisville, founded in 1790." "Tis building housed the Louisville Railway Company's power equip- ment." We take I-64 downtown, Owen remarking at how close Portland is, how convenient. "We're already here!" he says. We reverse course and cross Ninth Street heading west, where Owen bows his head like Virgil at the gates of hell. "Te minute we cross this line, the downtown- revitalization district ends," he says. Owen, 54, moved to Portland in the early 2000s. Te retired WAVE Radio reporter says Old Louisville wasn't right, the Highlands too expensive. Since the move, Owen has been annoying the hell out of everybody. He's running for the Metro Council seat in District 5, which encompasses Portland and Shawnee, as a Republican against Democratic incumbent Cheri Bryant-Hamilton. His business card reads: "21st Century Ideas To Spread Te Wealth." His name shows up under headlines like "Neighbors complain of illegal liquor sales" and "Louis- ville residents putting up stink over delayed trash pickup." Owen keeps lighting the same long cigarette with a match and giving me a Grandfather History Lesson, the kind that forces you to chuckle and check the facts later. Resident and former radio journalist John Owen knows just where to go to fnd "real Portlanders." T

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