There was a time in Butchertown history when a large part of the pedestrian traffic down Story Avenue was the hogs enroute to the processing plant. Meat packing gave the neighborhood its name, but in recent years, the residents and visitors who patronize the restaurants and galleries in the neighborhood don't like the noise and odors emanating from the plant. For over 10 years, the company, JBS Swift, and the Butchertown Neighborhood Association have been at odds.
In 2009, the Association asked Swift to stop making some improvements, including building a hog chute to facilitate moving the 10,000 hogs slaughtered each day into the plant. Previously, many animals fell and broke their legs while being herded into the plant from trucks and had to be destroyed; the chute was intended to bridge a 5 foot gap and reduce odor. The Association insisted that Swift had begun construction before the city approved it and wanted the city to revoke the permit and end Swift's right to operate in Butchertown.
Over 1,300 jobs were at stake if the plant closed. Metro Council President David Tandy revealed that city leaders were trying to find a new home for Swift in Louisville, which could lead to more jobs and lawsuit originating when Swift did not file on time for an extension of its operating permit. The group had also requested that Swift spend $137,500 for landscaping, but that requirement was thrown out by a Jefferson Circuit Court judge. A hearing was scheduled for November 15, but now the two sides are negotiating.
Recent decisions by the City Board of Zoning Adjustment that spared the plant have been viewed by some in the neighborhood as the City's bowing down to big corporations, but Louisville must proceed carefully. Swift is Louisville's third largest manufacturing employer, right behind Ford Motor Co. and General Electric, so Louisville does not want to lose $47 million in payroll taxes and $100,000 in real estate taxes or push more people into unemployment in a tough economy.
Local 227 of the United Food and Commercial Workers fears that Swift could relocate far from Louisville, and take with them over 1,300 jobs paying $40,000 per year, plus have health and pension benefits. In pleas to the mayor to save the plant, the workers cast their concerns in terms of "workingmen" vs. the "yuppies" who "don't respect people like us who work with their hands."
It is likely that eventually a new site in Jefferson County will be found to relocate the plant. The original slaughterhouse, after all, was located outside the city limits in Butchertown as 19th century Louisville citizens did not want smelly, noisy meatpacking in the central city either. Swift itself, now part of a multinational company based in Brazil, did not come to Butchertown until the late 1960's; it has a large investment, but not a lengthy tenure there.
Now that downtown is being revitalized, with developments like NuLu, Yum! Center, and 4th St. Live, housing in adjacent neighborhoods is increasingly sought after. The site of the plant itself is a prime location for developers. Neighborhood property values in Butchertown would soar if the plant left the area. Unless and until that happens, Butchertown smells like pork, and various players in the future of Butchertown development are smokin' mad.