The vision for a major gathering place and economic generator in West Louisville is now a reality.

The Louisville Urban League has unveiled the $53 million Norton Healthcare Sports and Learning Center, a state-of-the-art sports facility located on 24 acres at 30th Street and West Muhammad Ali Boulevard in Russell.

The multi-sport complex is designed to host a spate of local, regional and national track meets in combination with other sporting events, concerts, educational experiences and other programming.

The University of Louisville will host the new venue’s first indoor track meet on Wednesday: the Lenny Lyles Cardinal Invitational. A ribbon cutting was slated for Monday, Feb. 16, but this week’s winter storm forced its postponement.

The complex is equipped with 90,000 square feet of floor space; a 4,000-seat, 200-meter banked indoor track; and competition areas for jumping, vaulting and throws. The indoor track also boasts a Mondo hydraulic floor that can be raised and lowered, which allows for the addition of a stage and floor seating for concerts and other events.

Other features inside the complex include a four-lane mini-bowling alley, an interactive rock-climbing wall and a multipurpose space for educational programming. An outdoor track also will open later this year.

“Sixteen months ago, we began construction on a vision ー a vision that is beyond sports and represents a true catalytic investment in a community that has been intentionally and systemically redlined in every way,” Louisville Urban League President and CEO Sadiqa Reynolds said in a news release. “This building is not the solution to everything that pains the West End and this community, but it did clear 24 acres of land that was sitting contaminated and abandoned for more than 10 years in our community and it is a symbol of what equitable planning and investment can look like.

“It is the start of something special for track and field, this community, and Louisville. We know that education and financial empowerment are key, we will use this facility as a carrot toward those larger goals. It is the honor of my life to lead this project.”

A 30th street wall-scape piece has been created across a full city block and features a number of local Black leaders, such as Elmer Lucille Allen, Ed Hamilton, Alberta Jones, Mattie Jones and Lewis Coleman Jr. A poem also has been etched in the community green sidewalk and floor-to-ceiling artwork is displayed from local Black artists.

“Building in the midst of a global pandemic and amid the most fervent cries for racial justice in decades, this project’s continued forward motion has provided hope and inspiration,” Reynolds said. “And this project is not just being completed against this backdrop, but it is doing so while setting a new example in Kentucky for Black spending and Black workforce participation. We set ambitious goals of attempting to spend 40% of our project costs with Black people and Black companies. We met them. In fact, this project may have the highest Black spend of any Kentucky project to date. We also created 302 jobs during this project. We didn’t set Kentucky goals; we set Atlanta goals because the West End deserved that investment.”

The Urban League raised $43 million toward the development over a 22-month period in the form of philanthropic gifts, corporate sponsorships and tax credits. That included $10 million from Louisville Metro Government, $6.5 million from Humana Inc. and $5 million from Norton Healthcare Inc. Norton Healthcare also signed on as the naming rights partner. The league borrowed the remaining $10 million and said sponsorship opportunities exist for those who still want to be part of the project and help support ongoing operations.

“We are very proud to have been an early partner in this project with the Louisville Urban League,” Russell F. Cox, President and CEO of Norton Healthcare, said in the release. “We are committed to health equity in our community, and the opportunities for activities, classes, and events in this sports and learning center are critical to achieving that. It takes many like-minded partners working together to realize the transformational change that Sadiqa Reynolds and the Louisville Urban League envisioned for this project, and we are fully invested.”

Regional Draw

The Louisville Sports Commission and facility manager ASM Global have partnered to secure events for the new complex and expects growing demand for entertainment and educational opportunities. The facility is also expected to be a regional draw that will increase local hotel stays and visitor spending.

“The addition of this new center represents encouraging growth in Louisville’s West End,” Cleo Battle, chief operating officer of Louisville Tourism, said in the release. “The venue gives Louisville Tourism another tool to continue positioning Louisville as a regional and national site for sports events. This state-of-the-art athletic center will be instrumental in helping generate a variety of youth and championship events.”

Reynolds told Louisville Business First last summer that there are numerous ways in which the local business community can help reverse the West End’s fortunes beyond this development.

“We have to be able to diversify the economy and the jobs created. We have to expand the number of Black businesses now with investments and technical assistance,” Reynolds said. “There are some business owners that could be very helpful for the entire Black community in helping them get their business off the ground. They have good plans, but they don’t always have the seed money and technical expertise.”

Upcoming events:

  • Feb. 17 – Lenny Lyles Cardinal Invitational
  • Feb. 18-19 – Appalachian Athletic Conference Indoor Championships
  • Feb. 20 – KTCCCA College Indoor Invite
  • Feb. 21 – KTCCCA Age Group Meet
  • Feb. 27 – Louisville Indoor Classic
  • March 6 – KTCCCA Class AA and AAA High School Indoor State Championships
  • March 7 – KTCCCA Age Group Meet
  • March 13-14 – KTCCCA Class A High School Indoor State Championships
  • March 14 – KTCCCA Middle School Indoor State Championships
  • March 20 – USATF Kentucky Indoor Master Showcase