Spalding University’s Trager Park is still brand new, but one corner of it already has a lasting touch, thanks to the Kentucky Derby Festival and the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation.

The Kentucky Derby Festival, whose offices are across the street from Trager Park on the south end of campus, made the first bench dedication at the new park on Wednesday, honoring 1999 KDF Board Chairwoman Penny McTighe, who passed away in 2016.

KDF President and CEO Mike Berry wore McTighe’s 1999 KDF Pegasus Pin on Wednesday as he led a group of about 25 staff and board members in a ceremony to celebrate her legacy as well as KDF’s relationship with Spalding.

Berry said KDF employees are grateful for the new park, which opened last November at the corner of South Second and West Kentucky streets as a student recreational area and community green space.

The 2.2-acre park site had been an unused asphalt lot before it was transformed by Spalding, in partnership with the Trager Family Foundation and Louisville Gas and Electric Company.

Berry said his staff looks forward to walking to the park to take a break and “just sit down and enjoy a beautiful afternoon like this.”

“It’s so great to have green space here,” Berry said. “A lot of meetings that we have are think tanks to try to think about how to fix an event or create a new one, so to have a space to go to and actually sit outside and think, it’s like a huge, great break room. And because the Festival’s events tend to be outdoors, tend to be in green spaces …  it just made sense to honor one of our past chairwomen in that way. We’ve taken the dollars that people gave in Penny’s memory (to the KDF Foundation) to be able to do this and hopefully provide a place for people to sit and enjoy the space.”

McTighe’s nephew, Chad McTighe, who is a member of the KDF Foundation board, said the park bench is a fitting way to honor his aunt, who always enjoyed being outdoors and sitting in her backyard garden.

“The way she was, this is perfect,” Chad McTighe said. “She would absolutely love this type of spot.”

The black metal bench honoring McTighe, who was also a former KDF Foundation board chair, bears a plaque with her name and KDF affiliation. It is located in the southwest corner of the park that is closest to the KDF office.

Trager Park will be showcased Oct. 5-6 when Spalding hosts its inaugural Founders’ Weekend Fall Festival, with food, vendors and games in the park.

To help support Trager Park and Spalding’s ongoing greening initiative, contact Loren Carlson at [email protected] or 502-873-4317.

Flower sit on black metal bench with a plaque that reads "Penny McTighe, 1999 Kentucky Derby Festival Chair, Donated by the KDF Foundation"
This bench, donated by the Kentucky Derby Festival Foundation in honor of Penny McTighe, 1999, KDF board chair, was the first to be dedicated at Trager Park.

Spalding is working to build the fields of its dreams, and the Golden Eagles are looking for the support of Louisville’s leaders.

Louisville Metro Council representatives Rick Blackwell and Angela Leet, who are Spalding trustees, hosted fellow council members and trustees, as well as other government officials, on Thursday, March 15, for a progress update on the proposed Spalding athletic fields complex between South Eighth and South Ninth streets, about four blocks west of campus.

Spalding President Tori Murden McClure, Chief Advancement Officer Bert Griffin, Athletic Director Roger Burkman and architect Sabak, Wilson and Lingo gave presentations on the scope of the project, which will transform an abandoned 7.4-acre tract of asphalt into two soccer fields and one softball field for the NCAA Division III Golden Eagles.

Spalding, which announced the fields proposal in 2015 and wrapped up site preparation work last month, is making a fundraising push to get the project complete.

“From the Spalding side, obviously the project is very exciting and is more growth for Spalding,” Blackwell said. “From the city perspective, it’s really an opportunity as well. You’re taking something that was really an eye sore and turning it into something that’s a real treasure. We’re grateful for Spalding being able to do that, and hopefully we can have some city involvement as well to make it happen.”

University officials aren’t seeking public funding for the fields, but they sought Thursday to win the support of leaders to spread the word about the benefits of the project, which would create a large urban green space in the South of Broadway (SoBro) area and provide community access to high-quality sports facilities.

“When you have investment like this that happens in the community, other people are willing to start making investments,” Leet said. “As soon as you pick up something that looks like a blighted site and improve it and make it look like what it can be, others buy in and believe in that thought. They join the enthusiasm. And I believe this is the beginning of what will be.”


A true home field

The Spalding athletic fields project is seen as a game-changer, literally, for the school’s student-athletes.

The complex will provide on-campus home fields for the first time to the men’s and women’s soccer and softball teams. Lacrosse and field hockey programs could be started.

The soccer teams currently play at Champions Trace a few miles from campus and work their games and practices around the schedule of Collegiate High School, which is the primary tenant.

The softball team has moved home fields multiple times over the years and currently plays at Holy Cross High in Shively, about a 20-minute drive from Spalding. Again, the high school holds scheduling priority, so Spalding must work around it, sometimes leading to late-evening practices.

“It’s just going to help the overall student-athlete experience of the players on our team,” men’s soccer coach Adam Boyer said. “It will bring them closer to the university as a whole, to have their own facility they can call home.”

Spalding’s teams would be the primary tenants of the new fields, but the university plans to invite other school and club teams to rent them. The lighted, synthetic-turf fields would allow for year-round use. A fieldhouse with changing rooms and a concession stand is also planned.

“It’s an area (of downtown) that really kind of needs it,” Blackwell said, “and it’s really going to spur a lot of opportunities as well. Think about if you have not only Spalding activities but other activities during the summer. If you have two soccer fields, you have the opportunity to do some tournaments and have a lot of folks down here participating. That’ll spur opportunities for people to add amenities, restaurants and all kinds of other investments with it. That’s what we’re hoping for from the city side.”

Though Spalding was making its case to members of the Metro Council, the university is not asking for public money to help fund the project. McClure said the point of Thursday’s gathering was to provide information and encourage government leaders to express support for the project in their communities.

Spalding is hopeful that the city will eventually assist in safety and beautification work to the public spaces around the site, such as improving the sidewalks and street-lighting in the area.

McClure said that once Spalding raises all the money it needs, the fields could be completed in 3-4 months.

“Because we are a private university, it’s been a little more challenging to find those dollars,” said Leet, who chairs the Spalding board’s advancement committee. “So we’ve really had to work hard to find those community partners who believe in what we’re trying to accomplish here, who believe in the idea of improving the neighborhood.

“The beautiful thing of it is we have more than 20 trustees who have been on board for several years now with what we’re trying to accomplish, and they’ve been working hard to utilize their contacts and influence in their areas of expertise to try to make this happen. And I think that’s what we’re seeing here today.”

Greening initiative continues

The Spalding athletic fields complex is the latest – and largest – project in university’s greening initiative, which also included the creation of Mother Catherine Spalding Square in the center of campus in 2014 and the repurposing last fall of an abandoned asphalt lot into Trager Park at the corner of South Second and West Kentucky. (More than 100 trees are set to be planted this spring at Trager Park, a substantial addition to a neighborhood that has only a 9 percent tree canopy – below the 15 percent recommended for central business districts by American Forests.)

Like with those other greening projects, the fields complex would remove acres of impervious surfaces in SoBro and decrease the amount of stormwater that enters the city’s sewer system.

As an incentive, the Metro Sewer District has already approved about $250,000 in stipends to Spalding to complete the work, according to Sabak, Wilson and Lingo.

“There are some huge (greening) improvements that Spalding has already done. Those are really investments in the community,” said Blackwell, the president of DeSales High School who earned his master’s degree in religious studies from Spalding in 1995 and is now pursuing his doctorate of education in leadership at the school. “It makes us more believable when we talk about the (Spalding athletic fields) being a community investment because you’ve seen what Spalding has already invested in the community. This, too, will be not only for our athletes but for the community. It’s huge.”


Rendering of softball field
Rendering of softball field
Rendering of propose Spalding athletic complex fieldhouse
Rendering of fieldhouse
Rendering of overhead view of proposed Spalding athletic fields - two soccer fields and a softball field
Overhead rendering of full complex

Spalding University unveiled a major component of its greening initiative on Nov. 3 with the dedication ceremony of 2.2-acre Trager Park, a grassy recreational space at the corner of South Second and West Kentucky streets that has been repurposed from an unused pad of asphalt.

A product of the philanthropy of Louisville Gas and Electric Company and the Trager Family Foundation, Trager Park will offer students and neighbors space for intramural sports and recreation while beautifying the South of Broadway (SoBro) neighborhood and providing a signature entrance for the southeast corner of Spalding’s campus. The park will also help diminish the urban heat island effect in the area.

“Through partnerships with community stewards like LG&E and the Trager Family Foundation, Spalding is able to expand its campus and opportunities for students while improving the quality of life of our neighbors and helping the environment,” Spalding President Tori Murden McClure said. “The new park will also become, literally, a cornerstone of the university, providing a lovely, usable green space that welcomes the community to our campus.”

Construction, which began in early summer, included the removal of about 150 asphalt parking spaces. Approximately 100 trees will be planted at Trager Park next spring.

“The beauty of what’s been created here is the positive impact and forward momentum it represents for multiple efforts within our community,” LG&E President and Chief Operating Officer Paul W. Thompson said. “Partnering on projects like this, that benefit the community in so many ways, is important to our company, which is what made this an ideal collaboration for us from the very beginning.”

Plaque Trager Park Est. 2017The park is named in honor of Bernard Trager, the founder of Republic Bank, and his wife, Jean, thanks to a gift from their family in support of Spalding’s greening efforts.

“Trager Park meets all the criteria of what the Trager Family Foundation’s core mission is,” said Steve Trager, Bernard and Jean’s son who is Republic Bank’s chairman and chief executive officer. “It allows us to be associated with a great organization like Spalding, helps beautify our community and provides functional outdoor space not only for the students of the university but for all residents who live in and around the SoBro neighborhood. Involvement in this project was an absolute no-brainer.”

The creation of Trager Park has multiple environmental benefits, according to the Louisville Metro Office of Sustainability. By decreasing some of the 9 million square feet of impervious surface in SoBro taken up by parking lots and other infrastructure, the park will contribute to reducing surface temperatures and the amount of water that enters the stormwater system. After the trees are planted and mature, the park will increase the tree canopy of a neighborhood that currently has only a 9 percent canopy (about 21 acres), which is below the 15 percent recommended for central business districts by American Forests.

“We are grateful for Spalding’s leadership in converting an impervious surface to green space, especially in the SoBro neighborhood,” Louisville Metro Director of Sustainability Maria Koetter said. “Replacing concrete with grass and trees also lowers air and surface temperatures and creates a healthier environment and healthier citizens. In addition to beautifying the block, this investment will reduce the amount of water entering the stormwater system during rain events. We look forward to more residents, businesses and nonprofits following Spalding’s lead.”

Trager Park is the latest piece in Spalding’s ongoing greening initiative. In 2013, the university dedicated the Mother Catherine Spalding Square green space on West Breckinridge Street between South Third and South Fourth. Spalding also plans to construct an athletic fields complex, which will be the home of its softball and soccer teams, by repurposing a tract of more than seven acres between South Eighth and South Ninth. Fundraising for the fields project is ongoing.