There’s more to Louisville than college hoops and Churchill Downs. Research is big here, too.

“U of L made a commitment to establishing itself as a top research institution,” says Arnold M. Judd Jr., vice president of Louisville’s Arrasmith, Judd, Rapp, Chovan. “Over $1 billion in new construction is planned over the next 20 years.”

The University of Louisville’s award-winning, roughly 290,000-square-foot Clinical & Translational Research Building is the first LEED-certified research facility in the state—and the first in a wave of projects heading for the city. The university foundation’s economic-development arm, Nucleus KY, recently broke ground on a new 180,000-square-foot, eight-story building downtown.

These projects, along with the new KFC Yum! Center sports and entertainment complex, “have been very successful in bringing people to the center city,” says local architect and developer Bill Weyland of CityVisions Associates. “The medical and research side alone is expected to create 30,000 jobs in the next five years.”

These projects have spurred demand for multifamily rentals as well as for visitor amenities, such as the 21c Museum and Hotel. An adaptive-reuse project, the 90-room boutique hotel and restaurant was partially financed by New Markets and Historic Tax Credits. It earned a 2011 Honor Award from AIA Kentucky and a 2007 Excellence in Design from AIA New York State.

Louisville benefits directly from its strategic convergence of three interstate highways. Home to UPS, the city is one day’s drive from two-thirds of the U.S. population, making it a burgeoning hub for etailers such as and “You can fly non-stop to any destination in the world—as long as you can fit in a UPS mailer,” quips principal M. Ross Primmer, AIA, of De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop.

“Transportation is our greatest strength and is also our greatest weakness,” explains Thomas Kute Jr., owner of local firm Thomas Kute. “Do the math. The city’s northern and westernmost border is the Ohio River, over which we have three bridges that connect to the state of Indiana. Thousands of people live there and work here and vice versa.” Congestion will be eased by the Ohio River Bridges Project, adding two new bridges at the most-needed locations by 2018.

The city’s roadways were preceded by abundant green space. In 1887, city leaders engaged Frederick Law Olmsted to design a park and parkways system, which are still in use today. The Riverview Park Visitors Service Building I, the latest addition to the system, won a 2011 Annual Design Review award from this magazine as well as a 2011 AIA Kentucky Honor Award.

All this keeps River City residents bullish on their fair city, says Steve Eggers, AIA, managing principal of hometown firm K. Norman Berry Associates Architects. “Louisville is big enough to provide a great quality of life and small enough that you can make a difference.”