Bringing a 40-acre, $1 billion-plus commercial/residential project to fruition that will alter the landscape and lifestyle of Louisville’s riverfront requires top talent. Rock stars of design and development, if you will. In the coming months, we’re going to feature the “Rock Stars of RiverPark Place” to help you get to know some of the brilliant and dedicated people behind the project.
David Spillane spent his childhood near the water in Ireland. No matter where he has lived since then, he’s never been far from it. In fact, as president of Goody Clancy in Boston and principal for the firm’s planning and urban design practice, Spillane has built his career on a passion for design that transforms waterfronts.
“We’ve worked a lot of places and done a lot of things, but the most exciting projects for me are waterfront projects,” he said. His firm has completed waterfront projects “all the way from Vermont to Texas.”
This lifelong passion is why serving as lead architect for RiverPark Place is an ideal fit for his talents. It also means Louisville is incredibly lucky to have him on board.
Fascinated by design since he was a child, Spillane earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from University College Dublin (Ireland) and a master’s degree from Harvard University. His work has included planning in Mississippi and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, replacing an aging interstate highway in Hartford, Conn., and redefining Boston’s Fort Point Channel waterfront.
His designs have been recognized with more than a dozen national awards from the American Institute of Architects, the American Planning Association, the Congress for the New Urbanism and the Waterfront Center, including the 2013 American Planning Association’s “National Planning Excellence Award for a Firm.”
As an extension of his affection for cities’ waterfronts, Spillane serves on the board of directors for Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, where he has been an active participant in promoting public access to a cleaner and more vibrant Boston Harbor and Massachusetts Bay. He has also served as a member of Boston’s Municipal Harbor Plan Advisory Committee and is a design advisor to the Capitol Center Commission in Providence, R.I.
Despite his experience with waterfronts across the country, Spillane believes there is always more to learn. That’s why he and the RiverPark team traveled to Boston, Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Canada, to study what makes each of their waterfronts so successful.
“In all those cities, we saw principles of what it takes to create a great waterfront — providing public access along the water’s edge, creating public amenities with a mix of uses,” said Spillane. “Residential housing is a huge part of that, and so are open spaces and restaurants that draw people to the area who don’t live there. Also, they each provide water access for small boats, canoes and kayaks and have the ability to host events and other activities.”
As a result of these fact-finding trips, Spillane said he and the RiverPark team have been able to incorporate all of the very best elements from each city’s waterfront they visited, one of which is density.
“When Steve Poe invited us to be part of the team and the city started this project, I think that the kind of density that was envisioned was far less than what’s happening now,” said Spillane. “The density being envisioned now is like what we saw in Boston, Vancouver and Portland. It’s essential to RiverPark and what this project can ultimately become to the city. We’re seeing all around the country more and more interest in urban living and urban environments, where you can walk from your front door to a restaurant or a park or a marina and you don’t have to drive. Those are some the benefits we get from density.”
Spillane is proud that he’s had a hand in a project that brings people together in such a transformative way. “It’s a place that invites other people in, who don’t specifically live there, to have access to the restaurants on the water’s edge. I think the marina adds a whole other dimension to life, providing the ability to get out on the river.
“When you mix all those ingredients together — the mix of uses, walk-able areas, density, public access and access to the water, you have all the ingredients of a great waterfront. This is the vision we talked about from the very beginning — a place which is vibrant and active and dense.”
Spillane believes that an important part of the project, one that’s easy to overlook, is the way parking is being incorporated out of sight.
“Parking is below the building, and that creates far better views and access to the waterfront and the river. I think that’s really exciting,” he said. “There was a lot of very careful attention in design to maintain those views of the waterfront from as many units as possible, both the ones built to date, and the ones in the future.”
Though RiverPark is in its early stages, Spillane believes it already has lots of momentum. As it attracts more people and new amenities, it’s going to become even more compelling over time, he added.
“Louisville is a really vital place, and it’s become even more vital since I started with the project,” Spillane said. “At that time, Waterfront Park had just opened. I remember being in the offices of the Waterfront Development Corp., seeing the pictures of the wall of what it had been just a few years before where it was primarily industrial, and how quickly it has transformed into a major part of the city’s shared public space.”
Spillane added the he thinks the transformation of Louisville’s waterfront is an amazing story. “It’s one of the great waterfront transformations nationally, and it’s a model for many other communities. RiverPark is an incredibly important part of that story.”