By John R. Karman III, Business First Reporter
The news that 21st Century Parks Inc. has raised the $120 million necessary for development of The Parklands of Floyds Fork is good not only for lovers of the great outdoors, but also for the 40 contractors involved in the project.
The list of companies working on the 3,700-acre public parks system in eastern and southeastern Jefferson County includes general contractors and architects, landscapers and sign makers, electricians and appraisers and fence builders and furniture designers.
More than half of the firms are local.
Their work — paving roads, building bridges, constructing facilities and providing groundskeeping services — is welcomed by the companies during the ongoing downturn for the construction industry.
But being part of the Parklands, a four-park system that will extend from Shelbyville Road to Bardstown Road, also is important to the workers because they are building a community asset that will benefit generations to come.
“It’s definitely been rewarding on our end just to see this thing come together,” said Kenny Roller, heavy/highway manager for Louisville Paving Co., a general contractor on the project.
The northern portion of the first park, Beckley Creek Park, already has opened. The southern part of that park, plus a second park, Pope Lick Park, are expected to open in September, according to Dan Jones, who is 21st Century Parks chairman and CEO.
Construction of two other southern parks, Turkey Run and Broad Run, is slated to begin in late June, he said. They are set to debut by the end of 2015.
Louisville Paving has built 4.5 miles of park roads and an equal length of concrete walking trails through the developing park system, according to Roller.
The company, which had an $11.7 million contract to work on the project, also guided 21 subcontractors that have worked on the construction of bridges, retailing walls and other infrastructure elements, he said.
“It’s a good feeling,” Roller said, to work on something that will become a “landmark” and a place to take the grandkids one day.
Scott Wyatt, project manager with Louisville-based Kelley Construction Inc., expressed similar sentiments when discussing The Parklands.
Kelley has 33 subcontractors on the project and has managed planting, landscaping and construction of several buildings.
Wyatt declined to disclose the value of Kelley’s contract.
“It’s a good cornerstone project to have in this economic climate,” he said, before quickly adding that the more important consideration is being part of “something that’s going to last.”
The Parklands project has received significant support from the community, as evidenced by its recently completed fund drive.
Jones said 21st Century Parks achieved its fund-raising milestone in late February after a capital campaign that went public four years ago.
He said the nonprofit was able to raise such a large amount of money during difficult economic times because of generous donors, dedicated volunteers and “a really compelling story.”
Jones and his father have led the effort to raise the money for the parks.
Of the $120 million generated, $70.5 million came from private sources and $49.5 million from public sources, Jones said. The public money includes $38 million from the federal government, $10 million from the state and $1.5 million from Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government.
The Jones family provided about $15 million to the campaign.
Other large contributors identified by Jones include the James Graham Brown Foundation Inc. ($9 million), Humana and the The Humana Foundation Inc. ($4.25 million), Papa John’s International Inc. chairman and CEO John Schnatter and his wife, Annette Schnatter, ($3 million), Thorntons Inc. ($2 million) and Louisville businessman and philanthropist Henry Heuser Jr. ($2 million.)
Jones said that about 550 donors provided gifts of $10,000 to $1 million.
Brown Foundation president Mason Rummel said her organization contributed to the parks effort because the project aligns with the will of its benefactor, James Graham Brown, a wealthy lumberman, horseman and entrepreneur who died in 1969.
Brown, who had no heirs, said in his will that the money should be used to “make Louisville and Kentucky a better place to live,” Rummel said. “We’re looking for impact.”
Jones said The Parklands is expected to have the same type of transformational impact on the community as the parks and parkway system created by Frederick Law Olmsted did when it was created 120 years ago.
Of the capital campaign money, Jones said, $38 million went toward land acquisition. Land for the Parklands is owned by 21st Century Parks, the city and The Future Fund Inc.
Future Fund is a land trust operated by Dr. Steve Henry, a former Kentucky lieutenant governor who started the nonprofit in the early 1990s to protect land along Floyds Fork.
The remaining $82 million is being used for master planning, design and construction.
The Parklands project features a mix of playgrounds, ball fields, recreation space and picnic areas. Other amenities include canoe trails and a restored group of barns and silos that are being transformed into a pavilion and observatory.
Among the Parklands’ attractions is the PNC Achievement Center for Education and Interpretation, which opened last month at Beckley Creek Park. The center, funded in part by a $1 million gift from PNC Bank’s PNC Foundation, serves as a welcome area and education program headquarters.
The Gheens Foundation Lodge, an 11,000-square-foot events space, also opened in February at Beckley Creek. The Gheens Foundation Inc. made a $1 million contribution toward construction of the building.
In addition to planning the development of the project, 21st Century Parks, which has about 25 full- and part-time employees, also has been preparing for its future upkeep.
It has created a three-pronged strategy for maintenance, which consists of an endowment, opportunities to generate income and an annual funding plan, according to Jones.
The endowment, funded with money raised outside of the capital campaign, currently has $25 million — largely from the Jones family, he said.
The income opportunities include hosting events, such as weddings and corporate outings, at the Gheens lodge.
Ellen Doolittle, communication coordinator for 21st Century Parks, said 65 events, including 24 weddings, have been scheduled for 2013. Another six weddings have been booked for 2014.
Jones estimated that revenue generated from events eventually could fund 10 percent to 15 percent of the Parklands’ projected annual operating budget of $4 million.
Annual funding started with a membership drive that recently launched, Doolittle said.
Yearly dues are $35 per person and $50 per household, and members will be entitled to several perks, including discounted programs at the parks and admission to some events geared strictly to them.
An annual dinner and other fund-raising events likely will be added in future years, Jones said.
Another goal, he said, is developing a variety of educational programs that will be offered at the parks and creating a marketing strategy.
Parks always have been a big part of Dan Jones’s life.
Jones, the son of Humana Inc. founder David Jones Sr., grew up in the Highlands and has vivid memories of playing in Cherokee Park.
Cherokee is among the parks and parkways designed 120 years ago by legendary landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
Jones believes those parks helped transform the city. Now, he is leading a project that he sees as equally transformational.
As chairman and CEO of 21st Century Parks Inc., Jones is responsible for an organization charged with developing four new parks in eastern and southeastern Jefferson County. And he has immersed himself fully in the process.
A former real estate developer, Jones quit his job to take on the 21st Century Parks role. He even uprooted his family — his wife, Lisa, and four children — and moved in New Haven, Conn., for two years to study forestry at Yale University. He earned a master’s degree in the subject there in 2006.
Jones refers to the period as “a career change, a sabbatical and a midlife crisis all rolled into one.”
He called the community’s backing of the Parklands of Floyds Fork project and the $120 million campaign to support it “a real testament to Louisville’s ability to focus on a project and be very generous in support.”
“Our next challenge is to bring it to life.”
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