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Design Alum Helps Reinvent Louisville Waterfront District

david Karem

David Karem

You rarely hear of a design major deciding to enroll in law school after graduation. Yet, that seemingly unconventional move illustrates the diverse career of David Karem (DAAP ’66), who has since practiced law alongside his father, mother and brother, enjoyed a successful career in state politics, and most recently directed a dramatic redevelopment of Louisville’s riverfront district.

“Nearly all of the others in my family are lawyers,” David says, “so it was sort of an expectation that I would do the same thing. But I was more interested in design, and I gained a great education pursing my degree. This background certainly helped later in my career when I became President of the Waterfront Development Corporation.”

Standing in the middle of Louisville’s Waterfront Park, it would be nearly impossible to guess what had previously occupied the space. Beautiful greenspace, footpaths, and a water play area for children are just some of the attractions of the 85 acres that sit next to the Ohio River.

There’s also a unique spiraling pedestrian bridge (formerly part of a railroad trestle) that connects the park to the State of Indiana, as well as a larger-than-life statue of Abraham Lincoln, who wrote some of his first works on abolition after seeing a boat full of slaves being loaded at the waterfront. The statue was designed so that visitors could interact with Lincoln, and it’s not uncommon to see children sitting in his lap as they learn more about Lincoln’s historical impact.

louisville waterfront

Photo credit: Nick Roberts, speeddemon2.com

Yet, when asked what his favorite part of the park is, David provides an interesting answer. “I would have to say the visitors of the park are my favorite thing, because they are who we had in mind throughout this whole process.”

The ‘process’ David refers to was decades in the making. For many years, Louisville’s downtown and waterfront area had been heavily industrialized due to shipping routes on the Ohio River. The site of the park was occupied by eyesores such as a scrapyard, salt piles, abandoned buildings and an asphalt manufacturer. What was once a sign of progress (and work) was now weighing down the city’s image as am appealing home for young professionals and families.

Louisville Waterfront

Photo credit: Nick Roberts, speeddemon2.com

“I think the Waterfront Park has brought a lot of pride and excitement back to the city,” David says. There’s a sense that this place is uniquely ours, and that we have a gathering place and recreation area that many other cities would envy. That in turn has helped spark neighboring development, because the entire area is now a place that people want to live and bring their families to enjoy.”

The numbers tell an exciting story. Approximately 500 people were employed in the area near the waterfront at the beginning of the redevelopment. Today, nearly 7,000 people work in the same geographical footprint – either in new or revitalized office buildings or shops and restaurants. This ripple effect extends into other projects as well, most notably the construction of the KFC Yum! Center nearby.

louisville waterfront

Photo Credit: Wales Hunter, Nfocus Images

Interestingly enough, there are other UC ties to the revitalization story beyond David’s work. Jim Walters, who graduated a few years after David with an architecture degree, worked on many of the initial designs for the park’s Master Plan. And Hargreaves and Associates, who worked extensively on UC’s Campus Master Plan through greenspace and landscaping redesign, was chosen to design the Waterfront Park landscape.

David sees a number of similarities between UC’s campus revitalization and the efforts of Waterfront Development Corporation. “Establishing a real sense of place is important, and having something that you can be proud of and draw people in with is very important to the vibrancy of UC. Now that the Campus Master Plan is completed, and there are beautiful buildings designed by signature architects, you can see the impact it has on current students and alumni alike.”

Based on the success of Waterfront Park, which attracts nearly 1.5 million people each year and holds approximately 120 events, a second 22 acre section will soon be developed. David is excited about the opportunity to build on this great start, and is grateful for the experience he gained at UC that led him to this point in his career.

“The University of Cincinnati will always hold a special place in my heart,” he says. “After all, it’s where I got my first co-op assignments, made lifelong friends and connections through Pi Kappa Alpha – and most importantly, met the love of my life, Anne Schroeder, who is also a UC graduate. We love coming back to campus and seeing how far UC has come, while looking back on what it meant to both of us.”

Louisville’s Waterfront Park was named one of the top 10 urban parks in the United States by the Urban Land Institute and was supported by more than $40 million in private donations. To learn more, visit the park’s website.