With a busy fall, I was surprised that this news slipped through the cracks in my news feed. The West Louisville FoodPort, an innovative Culinary Oriented Development that was a game changer for local food distribution, vertical farming, and education has been shelved due to its primary anchor pulling out of the project. The non-profit developer, Seed Capital was unable to find a new anchor that made the project financially feasible to construct. Even with the local government “gifting” the land to Seed Capital for $1, the developer was unable to create financial sustainability in the project.
This demonstrates how difficult it is to create inventive and pioneering developments that have not yet been proven to successfully work. 15 to 20 years ago, many developers, tenants, and financial institutions were wary of mixed-use and transit-oriented developments. The commercial development sector is slow to change, and ROI (return on investment) is the key factor. It took several decades before mixed-use developments and new development typologies became more prevalent, especially in the North American context (and even more so in the suburban context).
I see this effort by Seed Capital as a parallel case study. They were trying to be first-to-market with a new concept that could assist the West Louisville community from a food security, education, and job standpoint. Unfortunately the idea of food ports and Culinary Oriented Developments are still in their infancy. The financial numbers are not as prosperous as constructing a big box power center, where revenues are more stable through retail lease agreements. I don’t doubt that there will be further efforts in the coming years to establish food ports in other North American cities. And a developer that is able to construct such a project will likely need the backing of not only the local government and community, but businesses who are able to potentially sustain short term losses for long term gain.