When OneWest was created in 2014, the result of an idea hatched in Leadership Louisville’s Bingham Fellows program, it set a goal to bring about an economic renaissance in West Louisville.
To do that would require money as well as input from each of the West End’s nine neighborhoods and buy-in from the citizens who live there. For three years, meetings were held, ideas were shared, and partnerships were formed.
Then, in 2017, there was some much-needed positive economic news when both the YMCA and Passport Health Plan announced construction plans near 18th Street and West Broadway. To continue the momentum, the OneWest board decided to hire a dynamic, energetic individual to lead their organization.
And that’s how Evon Smith got to Louisville.
Smith has 20 years of experience in real estate development in North Carolina, and she began her career in banking. She didn’t know much about Kentucky before a recruiter called, but she says that for the first time, she was willing to listen.
She started as the President and CEO of OneWest in January 2018, and was initially on a 5-meeting-per-day pace. She’s enthusiastic about the challenge ahead.
“OneWest began as a combination of local leaders looking at a problem, coming up with solutions, and being intentional about bringing those solutions about,” she says. “Because of that, this is not somebody from outside telling the community what should be done. It is community leaders and citizens coming together to foster solutions. That makes OneWest powerful.”
Among her first priorities is to fund a $10 million capital campaign to develop commercial properties.
“I have met a ton of people. We have some serious momentum around our capital campaign,” she says.
But first, OneWest is establishing a special improvement district centered at 18th and Broadway that will clean up trash and add to the streetscape. Smith says the community sees that land as a gateway to the West End.
“Everyone values the Broadway corridor, and everyone wants to see a burst of new energy and product that represents safe mixed use, with restaurants, services, pharmacies, things that residents currently have to leave the area for,” she says.
OneWest’s strategy for attracting those businesses is to invest in real estate that already exists, turning dilapidated buildings into thriving businesses, as well as leading the development of new ones. One study found that $217 million is spent by West Louisville residents in other parts of the city, money that could stay in the West End.
Steve Poe, chairman of the OneWest board, said Smith’s experience in North Carolina made her the perfect choice.
“She has a proven track record in lifting up disadvantaged communities through economic development and demonstrated skills in commercial development, including financing, facility design and construction,” he told Business First.
Smith moved from New England to North Carolina at age 14, attended Shaw University in Raleigh, and excelled after college in the banking business. She later became an entrepreneur, leading the way for major commercial developments.
She was attracted to OneWest and Louisville as a place to accomplish big things: “The big attraction for me is the heavy lifting has been done. Significant support is already here.”