Is Louisville’s permitting process costing it business?

Weinberg, who moderated a panel discussion Wednesday during the Midwest Institutional Real Estate Investment Summit, held at the Ice House in downtown Louisville, opened the floor to his panelists to discuss An issue that has hounded some local and out-of-state investors: the city’s planning and design standards and its permitting process.

By Marty Finley  –  Reporter, Louisville Business First

Jun 18, 2015 Updated Jun 18, 2015, 12:20pm EDT

Reed Weinberg, president and principal of Louisville-based commercial real estate services firm PRG Investments, said it does not take long to cross the Ohio River from Louisville to Indiana on a good day but that those bridges can sometimes seem like the Great Wall of China when it comes to doing business between the two states.

Weinberg noted that Southern Indiana’s River Ridge Commerce Center, the 6,000-acre business park, is only 10 percent developed but already produces more than $1 billion in annual economic impact. That development is expected to take off even more when the Ohio River Bridges Project is completed next year.

While River Ridge is looked at as an asset for the region, there is some fear in Louisville that it could take business away from the city when Ohio River accessibility is improved. John Hollenbach, a principal with Hollenbach-Oakley LLC, a Louisville development firm, acknowledged that fear Wednesday, saying some are afraid they will hear a “sucking sound” as business drifts to Indiana from Kentucky in River Ridge’s direction.

But could Louisville be harming itself?

Lee Wilburn, who is one of River Ridge’s largest developers of industrial space, said Louisville’s permitting process must be improved if it wants to compete for projects with Southern Indiana, other cities in Kentucky and other states, such as Ohio.

Wilburn, president of Louisville’s Crossdock Development Inc., said he has built facilities in Southern Indiana in the same time frame that it would take to get the needed permits to move forward on construction in Louisville, adding that it has taken him months to land building permits for projects in the city.

Those quick-turnaround projects, which he did not identify, could not have been built in Louisville under that same timeframe.

“We just go where our customers want to be,” he said, noting that companies like to locate in areas where they can get their projects off the ground quickly.

Wilburn said during the panel discussion, which also included Jeremy Stephenson, president and principal of Milhaus Ventures in Indianapolis, and Matt Cohoat, executive vice president and CFO of Becknell Industrial in Indianapolis.

Mike Garcia, CFO and senior vice president of acquisitions and development of Omni Hotels and Resorts in Dallas, was slated to join the panel but was unable to travel to Louisville from Texas this week because of weather-related problems.

Wilburn has been involved in the development of several facilities inside River Ridge, including a building for Swiss auto supplier Autoneum and a large industrial warehouse at 800 Patrol Road. Wilburn’s firm also sold land where an Inc. fulfillment center was built.

He said he has voiced his concerns to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s administration and advocated Wednesday for the creation of a fast-track process that could get industrial projects moving more quickly in the city, thus making it more competitive with Southern Indiana.

City officials are aware of its faults in this area. I recently spoke to Jim Mims, director of Develop Louisville, which handles the real estate operations for Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government. He said the city can typically process a residential housing permit within a week but that the process slows for commercial and multi-family projects and can take an inordinate amount of time for an industrial project.

Mims said those delays can anger businesses and drive them to choose another location. “Companies have passed us over because of the unpredictability of the process and the time it took (them) to figure out it was an unpredictable process.”

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