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Is Cordish reaching out to Louisville’s independent restaurateurs to fill Red Star space at Fourth Street Live?

by Terry Boyd

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After years of ignoring Louisville operators in favor of national chains, is The Cordish Companies getting ready to invite local independents to the Fourth Street Live party?

John Varanese, who owns Varanese on Frankfort Avenue in Clifton, said he got an email solicitation from Hogan Real Estate about the Red Star Tavern space, which is slated to close because of non-payment of rent.

Varanese said the pitch, which he deleted, was not to him personally, but appeared to be a mass email.

Insider Louisville double-verified the email through people with direct knowledge of the Hogan Real Estate/Cordish Fourth Street Live strategy though no one was willing to forward a copy.

So far, in a poll of local indy restaurant operators, Varanese appears to be the only recipient.

That said, executives at Hogan Properties, which represents Baltimore-based Cordish at Fourth Street Live, aren’t denying they’re reaching out.

We got this email response to a query from Mike Leonard, Hogan Real Estate COO:

We are passionately committed to always finding the best possible operator, whether that be local, regional or national and, per our track record, upgrade the quality of our tenancy whenever we have the opportunity. Another great local operator – like Maker’s Mark – would be terrific. Fourth Street Live! enjoys the most attendance and sales in the region and we want the best.

In fact, the Maker’s Mark restaurant is not a local operation. Entertainment Concept Investors, New York-based investor group led by John Sullivan – in which the Cordish family has a stake – owns the restaurant, licensing the name from Maker’s Mark bourbon.

Chicago-based distiller Beam Inc., which owns the Maker’s Mark brand, is forbidden by federal law from owning a restaurant where alcohol is served.

Tony Palombino, who owns the Boombozz chain of pizza restaurants and draft houses, says he hasn’t gotten the Fourth Street Live pitch yet.

Nor has Dean Corbett, who owns Corbetts An American Place, Equus and Jack’s Lounge.

Corbett said he would not be interested in a Fourth Street Live location while Palombino didn’t rule it out.

To be sure, the downtown entertainment district is struggling with a number of closings over the years including Red Star and Saddle Ridge. Another Cordish-controlled company, Western rodeo-themed bar PBR Louisville, is replacing Saddle Ridge, according to news reports. Borders Books closed last summer after the national chain liquidated.

“The whole thing in the beginning (of Fourth Street Live) was that local operators weren’t invited,” Palombino said. “Their attitude was, ‘Well, there’s the Food Court.’ But we knew second generation opportunities would pop up. And that’s what’s happened.

With the failures of several national chains at Fourth Street live, “Cordish is saying, ‘Maybe we should get some local operators,’ ” Palombino said.

Palombino has total of five Louisville operations, one of the larger local independent operator along with Wick’s Pizza. Palombino operates Tony BoomBozz Pizza, BoomBozz Tap House and AP Crafters. He has a store opening next month in Phoenix,

The restaurant veteran said he has mixed feelings about Fourth Street Live.

The entertainment district does well during conventions and with downtown lunch crowd, but he said he’s not convinced there is sufficient continuous traffic. The lease rate would probably be on the high end, Palombino added, which is fine if the traffic supports it.

He pays between $18 and $22 per square foot for Class A, high-traffic real estate. Less expensive Class B real estate is cheaper. “But you’re going to have to spend on marketing to increase traffic, and in the end, it comes out the same,” Palombino said.

Palombino said when he heard Red Star was closing, “I was thinking , ‘That might be a good place for us.’”

But for the moment, “I’m just sitting back, waiting to see what happens,” he added.

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