In a Nutshell
What: The completion of the first phase of renovations to the AMPED Innovation Center, a creative hub that will double as an economic engine in Louisville’s west end – part of a far-reaching effort to revitalize predominantly Black neighborhoods encumbered by a legacy of redlining and widespread disinvestment.
Sector: Youth Services, Workforce Development, Arts and Culture
Location: Louisville, KY
Size: 30,036 square feet
Cost: $6 million
Sources of Funding/Financing: IFF loan, agency equity, capital campaign
IFF Support: $2.3 million loan closed in June 2022
IFF Staff Lead: Andre Gibson, Director of Lending – Indiana and Kentucky
Project Manager: Matthew Harrell, Sr.
Design: Three Dot Design
General Contractor: Miranda Construction
Impact: 75 jobs to be created during the first full year of operations in the AMPED Innovation Center, with 30 jobs created in each successive year (anticipated)
Sitting at the corner of 25th and Broadway in Louisville’s west end is a 30,036-square-foot red brick building constructed in 1923 to serve as the home of Universal Car Company. Originally built for use as a car showroom, by 1973 it had become Bob Smith Chevrolet – among the first large Black-owned car dealerships in Louisville. And while the facility is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s the building’s future that makes it most notable today.
This spring, with the help of a $2.3 million loan from IFF, the Academy of Music Production Education and Development (AMPED) completed the first phase of renovations needed to breathe new life into the historic structure and reopen the space as the AMPED Innovation Center – the latest expansion for the fast-growing nonprofit founded in 2014. Envisioned as a creative hub that doubles as an economic engine for the predominantly Black neighborhood – which is rich in history but encumbered by a legacy of redlining and other forms of targeted disinvestment – the AMPED Innovation Center will expand the nonprofit’s capacity to contribute to a community-wide plan to revitalize the west end that has attracted $1.5 billion in investments in the past eight years.
The new Innovation Center features an arts business incubator, an exhibition space that can also be rented out for corporate and community events, a recording studio, dedicated space for the nonprofit’s youth music education programming, and 17,600 square feet that will be leased to community partners who complement AMPED’s work to create an ecosystem of support for families that emphasizes creativity and self-sustainability through music, education, technology, and business.
“The programs and services in the AMPED Innovation Center are absolutely important and are going to help the community heal, learn, and grow,” says Dave Christopher, Sr., a self-described “serial entrepreneur” who founded AMPED and continues to serve as its executive director. “But the building itself is also important because it’s going to be a shining star right on the ninth street divide that brings hope to the community, demonstrates that this is what we deserve in the west end, and shows what we can do.”
The building itself is also important because it’s going to be a shining star right on the ninth street divide that brings hope to the community, demonstrates that this is what we deserve in the west end, and shows what we can do.
The first phase of building renovations prioritized the completion of two sections that will be leased by the University of Louisville and Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), providing AMPED with income to support the nonprofit’s operations and accelerate the completion of facility renovations as the organization conducts a $6 million capital campaign.
While the University of Louisville has yet to publicly announce how it will leverage its space in the AMPED Innovation Center, JCPS and students from the west end community are already benefiting from the facility after moving in last April. Through a program known as Elev8, JCPS is offering after-school tutoring, academic enrichment opportunities, college and career support, and other services to west end students. JCPS’ goal through Elev8 is to address systemic barriers that limit opportunities for students, ensuring more equitable access to supports that prepare them for future success.
Providing young people with the tools and resources to reach their full potential is at the foundation of AMPED’s model for social impact, which has grown rapidly in the eight years since Christopher founded the organization in direct response to Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer’s call for more youth programs in the city to provide young people with viable pathways to opportunity.
AMPED was launched as a summer camp offering kids the opportunity to learn how to play musical instruments. Though Christopher expected little to come of the two-week camp, it was an immediate success and led to the establishment of a permanent program designed to use the composition, production, and performance of music as a tool to teach young people how to express themselves constructively and work as a team – with an ultimate goal of developing healthy, productive members of society equipped to contribute to their communities.
“Music is the tool we use to bring kids in, with the idea that it will give them the opportunity to express the anger and hurt that they feel because of the inequities they face,” says Christopher. “Then we start to pour on the love and give them the confidence they need.”
Music is the tool we use to bring kids in, with the idea that it will give them the opportunity to express the anger and hurt that they feel because of the inequities they face.Then we start to pour on the love and give them the confidence they need.
Housed initially in a building owned by a friend, where Christopher had years earlier built a small recording studio for his son, AMPED quickly outgrew the space and leased a facility of its own. What Christopher soon realized, however, was that while AMPED’s music academy could make a difference in kids’ lives while they were actively participating in the program, more needed to be done to effect long-lasting positive change.
“We had great success with the kids we were working with, but then they’d leave us to go home to parents who were struggling,” explains Christopher. “And that caused us to decide that we couldn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish with the kids if we acted as if the parents didn’t exist. There’s no such thing as a child in poverty; there’s a parent in poverty.”
Expanding its focus to whole families, AMPED launched a Family Learning Program in which children and parents have shared opportunities to learn music, basic technology skills and those needed for specific careers, life skills, and more. A dedicated technology workforce development program soon followed, which provides advanced training for careers in data science and data analytics. Paying participants a living wage during the 12-week immersive program so that they can focus on learning and personal growth, AMPED also connects graduates with local corporations with which it has established relationships for employment opportunities, with starting salaries that generally range from $55,000-$65,000 per year.
With our workforce development program, we’re able to get residents in the neighborhood jobs that pay well, but they won’t stay in the community if there aren’t resources nearby like grocery stores and other retail establishments.
Last year, AMPED took another step forward in its comprehensive plan to revitalize the community with the launch of its Russell Technology Business Incubator (RTBI) – a state-of-the-art Black and Latinx business incubator and technology service center that offers holistic support to startup small businesses in the community. RTBI is the only business incubator in West Louisville, successfully supported 30 BIPOC small business owners in its first cohort, and currently has 34 entrepreneurs enrolled in its second cohort selected from a field of approximately 100 applicants. The RTBI will remain in its current leased facility after the AMPED Innovation Center opens.
“With our workforce development program, we’re able to get residents in the neighborhood jobs that pay well, but they won’t stay in the community if there aren’t resources nearby like grocery stores and other retail establishments,” says Christopher. “RTBI is helping create Black and brown businesses to fill that void, and the arts business incubator in our new Innovation Center will build on RTBI to teach youth and adult artists how to make a living doing what they love and contributing to the vitality of West Louisville.”
Having largely gutted the AMPED Innovation Center facility during the first phase of renovations, a project team comprised of Three Dot Design and Miranda Construction will begin phase two later this year by building out an artist workspace and offices for the arts business incubator program staff; the event and exhibition space; and the dedicated space to support the operations of AMPED’s youth music academy – all of which is expected to be completed by the end of 2023. As construction proceeds, AMPED is taking care to preserve and reinstall as many historical elements in the facility as it can, creating a tangible link between the pioneering Black-owned business that once occupied the space and the aspiring entrepreneurs and artists who will benefit from the facility moving forward.
Once all renovations are completed, AMPED will consolidate its operations by closing one of two leased locations that currently houses its music academy and moving a portion of the programming to the Innovation Center, where the nonprofit will accrue the benefits of facility ownership. And, with Louisville-based corporations like Yum! Brands already expressing interest in AMPED’s event space, it’s expected to provide an important source of revenue for the nonprofit that also brings more attention and investment to the west end to accelerate the momentum gained in recent years to revitalize the community.
“Within a few blocks in west Louisville, there’s a beautiful new YMCA, a sports and learning complex, the AMPED Innovation Center, and a new hospital being built, along with an opportunity campus by Goodwill,” says Christopher. “We’re also going to be developing two more buildings as our next project, including a technology training center. The city is coming together to get this done.”
IFF in Louisville
This year, in addition to partnering with AMPED, IFF’s Capital Solutions team has increased its presence in Louisville by participating in a series of events hosted by the Community Foundation of Louisville designed to activate more mission-based lending in the city – including a CDFI networking night that brought together local Black developers, community development organizations, small businesses, and CDFIs to explore opportunities for collaboration. IFF also has a longstanding relationship with the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which serves the Louisville market and regularly convenes CDFIs operating there to drive more capital to underserved communities in the city. IFF has participated in a number of events in 2022 designed to strengthen collaboration, foster thought leadership among funders and stakeholders, transform the community and economic development funding ecosystem, and promote equity and resilience within Louisville.