The Rhemas are joining a stampede of public and private interest in West Louisville. Most of the investment is centered around, but not limited to, Portland. The Portland neighborhood generally falls between Interstate 264 (western boundary), Tenth Street (eastern boundary), the Ohio River (northern boundary), and Market Street (southern boundary). Married artists Aron Conaway and Hallie Jones have reopened the performance venue Nelligan Hall at 2010 Portland Ave., and they are also renting artist studios and storage space at the Mammoth near 13th and Broadway.

Green Building owner Gill Holland, who is given a lot of credit for the redevelopment of East Market Street into the area known as NuLu, has formed the Portland Investment Initiative to raise $25 million in investments for the area. Holland is focusing his efforts between 15th and 26th streets, from Market Street to Portland Avenue. The North Carolina native says he’s been intrigued by West Louisville’s potential since he first moved to the city eight years ago.

“Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to see potential, where others see historical failure or lack of momentum,” he explains. “I think it is the same with NuLu. If you walk up and down the street, I bet a solid 50 percent are not Louisville natives. It’s a good mix of long-term locals – people who stayed and preserved their buildings for decades – and then fresh new eyes with young blood and sweat equity if not real equity. I feel like, with a little bit of urban acupuncture in a couple of blocks, you could see a positive ripple effect.”

Habitat for Humanity has also moved its Louisville headquarters to the Portland neighborhood. In addition to its normal mission of building homes, Habitat is also working with the New Direction Housing Corporation to use federal grant money to help current homeowners renovate their properties. The program, called Portland Pride, is part of a three-year partnership between Louisville Metro Government and Portland Now, the area’s neighborhood association. Portland is the first Louisville neighborhood to receive a federal designation as a Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy Area (NRSA) from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. It will be the first of many neighborhoods to try new approaches in revitalization.

The city of Louisville is also purchasing a 30-acre former National Tobacco property at 30th and Muhammad Ali Boulevard for $1.2 million. The property will be used for economic development. Mayor Greg Fischer has said that one of the most important initiatives of his administration is to help revitalize Western Louisville and attract jobs, retail and new housing to Russell, California, Portland, Chickasaw and Shawnee. “When we began to talk to companies about investing in Western Louisville, we ran into the same obstacle time and again – there was no significant amount of land to build a plant, a factory or an office,” Fischer said in a press release announcing the purchase in January.

Holland says West Louisville has the ingredients for a successful redevelopment, but he feels that entrepreneurs are overlooking opportunities in the area because of its reputation for high crime, drugs and problems with vacant houses. One solution is to start a rebranding campaign to change perceptions. Holland has dubbed 15th Street the East Portland Warehouse District, and he hopes to turn Bank Street into an artists’ row with cheap studio space. He has spent a lot of time raising West Louisville’s web presence, and says two new web sites are on their way to completion.

“I’m putting up all the great photos of existing assets because I feel like for a long time the neighborhood has let the media run with negative stories as opposed to accentuating all the positive ones,” Holland says. “Part of it is just educating the people that don’t live west of Ninth about all the good things, and all the assets that are there, because I think a lot of people are kind of oblivious.”