Welcome to the May 21 top secret, always confidential Monday Business Briefing.
These are biz tips Insider Louisville staff and contributors have collected during the past few days, some of which are NOT double-verified like Insider Louisville’s daily reporting.
But as we always say, this is inside dope from insider sources with direct knowledge of events. And this is a busy week before everyone leaves town on vacation including Monday Business Brief, but some good stuff.
• The big scoop as we push toward June is from real estate and hotel sources: White Lodging executives are making no secret of the fact they plan a Westin Hotel in downtown Louisville, sooner rather than later. White Lodging, based in Merrillville, Ind. outside of Chicago, is using the plan to both reach out to real estate firms and to recruit Louisville hotel talent, say our sources. But no one seems to have the entire plan – whether an existing property will get re-flagged, or this will be a ground-up project.
Westin is a bit of a puzzling choice because it’s actually a Starwood Hotels brand. As a management company, White Lodgings has exactly one Westin flag, and it’s in Austin. Also puzzling is the timing, with downtown hotel occupancy only now recovering from the Great Recession. The exception is 21c Museum Hotel, which didn’t seem to miss a beat, though 2009 and 2010 were lean years. But the larger hotels’ average daily rate has been suppressed for an awful long time. All that said, White Lodging has a significant presence in Louisville, with the big Marriott at Third and Jefferson streets and the Springhill Suites on Jefferson Street at Brook, as well as at least two suburban operations. Big hotel projects have been on the drawing boards for years, including a proposal – probably dead, now– for the Musselmans to build an upscale hotel at Whiskey Row. Maybe now financing is available for new buildings to get built. And we’re always thrilled at the prospect of a significant new downtown building soaking up a little of our vast sea of surface parking lots.
• Our sources are giving us a heads-up on the University of Louisville’s plan to realign operating relationships between the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine, University of Louisville Hospital and associated physicians groups. Several physician practice groups associated with the medical school will be without contracts June 30, sources say. Also, certain medical school departments such as surgery and pediatrics are being merged into University of Louisville Physicians. U of L officials are trying to merge the faculty practices into a single group. The idea is that the increased scale will allow for investment in electronic health records and give U of L more leverage with health insurance companies. Most are on board with the plan, but apparently, there are a few holdouts.
These are planned transitions that department chairmen have agreed to, our sources said. Dr. Gerard Rabalais is Pediatrics chairman and Dr. Kelly McMasters chairman of the Department of Surgery. University of Louisville Physicians is the largest, multi-specialty physician practice in Kentucky, with more than 600 docs. There’s lots more, and in brief, say our sources, “follow the money” – $130 million. We’re hoping U of L officials will explain the goals with this. But we hoped they’d talk about the hospital merger, and they never did.
• The most head shaking we’ve seen in a long time comes with news that both Steve Williams at Norton Healthcare and David Laird at what’s left of Jewish Hospital & St. Mary’s HealthCare are in-name-only CEOs. Both Williams and Laird may be out within the year, sources say. We understand why Laird is in corporate Siberia, replaced as CHI’s top exec by new KentuckyOne Health CEO Ruth Brinkley. But our insiders say Norton HealthCare is undergoing dramatic overhaul, with power shifting to COO Russ Cox. “That is a huge story everyone is missing,” said one tipster.
• An insider put us on notice that Kentucky has a new professional sports team – the Bluegrass Revolution – with a Louisville connection. The Revolution is part of the new eight-team American Ultimate Disc League. The Kentucky team is owned by Louisville entrepreneur David Veech. This new sports niche has gotten extensive coverage in the national media, but nothing locally. Per our source: Ultimate disc – a cross between playing Frisbee and football – is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, with more than 5 million recreational players. The object of the game is to score points by passing the “disc” to a player in the opposing end zone. And of the video we’ve seen, this draws a post-college professional crowd, which makes us hear cash registers ringing. Or at least iPad transaction software beeping.
From Slate last month:
In 2010, 4.7 million Americans played the sport at least once—almost triple the number who played a game of lacrosse, a sport with three professional leagues. More than 1.5 million people play Ultimate at least 13 times a year, and those devotees tend to spend money on the sport. There are at least eight companies that specialize in Ultimate apparel, mainly sweat-wicking jerseys and trucker hats.
It’s that last line that makes this a business story, not a sports story. The American Ultimate Disc League has two divisions: the Eastern Division (Buffalo Hunters, Connecticut Constitution, Philadelphia Spinners and Rhode Island Rampage), and the Western Division (Bluegrass Revolution, Columbus Cranes, Detroit Mechanix and Indianapolis AlleyCats). The Revolution plays its home games at John stadium/Robert Bell field at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, but our sources say the Bluegrass Revolution will play some games in Louisville as soon as Veech can find the right facility.
• Our contracting sources are telling us the Old Walnut Street Development, which no one quite understands, will happen. The project at Thirteenth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard was pitched more than 16 months ago as a job creator, adding 250 jobs in a section of Louisville where they’re badly needed. The mayor and metro council members all posed with shovels and hardhats for the big announcement.
BUT – and it seems like there’s always a “but” where metro government is the guiding force – the plans were vague at best. And then nothing for more than year. What we know is city government and Louisville Central Community Center raised $8.5 million for the renovation of more than 110,000 square feet into the Walnut Plaza business incubator. The plan includes development of an additional 32,000 square feet of commercial space. That was more than a year ago, and nothing …..