Smoketown has undergone a major transformation, thanks in large part to a HOPE VI development that remade the barracks-style Sheppard Square Homes into a New Urbanist vision of a historic cityscape. The traditional-style architecture, while quite different than what originally existed, shapes an urban fabric that’s significantly more humane than the housing project. Where streets were once blocked, parks have been built, and where decrepit historic buildings once stood, beautifully restored historic buildings now contribute to the neighborhood.
One of those restored buildings is the old Presbyterian Community Center on the corner of Hancock Street and Roselane Court. The Presbyterian Church donated the old facility to the Louisville Metro Housing Authority (LMHA). Rehabilitation of the structure including a new addition began in the spring of 2015. The building now includes 32 elderly and disabled housing units, community space, and solar panels generating 50kw of energy.
The LMHA had planned to use the basement of the structure for storage, but with its large windows and wide-open spaces, creative minds came up with better ideas. On Saturday, March 25, officials “broke ground” on the Smoketown Family Wellness Center (SFWC), the vision of Dr. Charlotte Gay Stites, the physician behind the plan.
Community members, Stites’s family and friends, and city and state officials gathered and spoke at the event. Those included Mayor Greg Fischer, State Congresswoman Attica Scott, and SFWC board chair Jeff Bringardner, among others.
Scott commented that “health is about more than healthcare—it’s about economic and social factors. Health is life.”
Stites is working with architect Steve Wiser of nearby JRA Architects on the project. She said the “aha moment” that the building was right for the project came when the team at JRA showed how the space could be efficiently organized. The SFWC signed a lease with LMHA just days before the groundbreaking and expected construction to commence immediately.
Dr. Stites was praised for her multi-year efforts to launch the project. “Dr. Stites, I just want to say that you have staying power and passion,” Mayor Fischer said.
According to an article by Molly Melia in For Good magazine, the Wellness Center is part medical office and part community center. “Doctors will be on hand to help advise and treat families,” Melia wrote. “Children will have a safe place to play, exercise and do homework. Parents will receive services that explain the needs of education, access, support, nutritional guidelines and more.”
“In a few short months, there will be patients and families coming to this room,” Stites said. “Most of us come into the world with wellness. How to we keep that over a lifetime?”
As to an exact opening date, Fischer asked when the project would have him back for a grand opening, to which Greenberg replied, “Ask the contractor.” The contractor in the crowd responded, “Soon.” “See you soon,” the mayor quipped before ducking out to another engagement.
(Editor’s Note: This article has been updated.)