Speaking to McPherson, Abramson said a combination of factors helped Louisville leaders win their “unity campaign” in 2000. Among them was a growing sense of frustration that Louisville was missing out on opportunities to lure businesses and raise its national profile due to the region’s fragmentation and its chaotic approach to economic development. Recalling two painful occasions when local disagreements sank the city’s chances of securing a National Basketball Association team, Abramson summarized the parting words of the teams’ owners as they packed their bags and headed to the airport: “Call us when you know who’s in charge of this community.”
The merger of city and county has saved money and fostered a new sense of possibility, but it has not been a panacea for all of Louisville’s troubles. Like St. Louis, it remains a metro area without an NBA team. The two regions share other similarities: shrunken urban cores that have lost residents and jobs to the suburbs, a history of busing programs introduced decades ago in an effort to desegregate schools, and dozens of small municipalities with their own mayors and city councils.
There are key differences, though. Unlike St. Louis, Louisville was not an independent city. Louisville Metro already had one large school district before the merger. And in Louisville only city and county residents voted on whether to unify; in St. Louis’ case, it looks likely that the entire state of Missouri will vote.