Welcome to the April 27 Monday Business Briefing.
This is your private business intelligence briefing, with Insider Louisville staff and contributors vetting tips collected during the past few days, hours and minutes before we post.
It’s Derby Week. Full stop.
But don’t unplug just yet, because we’ve got a doozy of an MBB for you. The fallout continues after Metro’s bungling of the downtown Omni site. Meanwhile, if you thought Lynn Winter killed Barret Avenue’s commercial corridor, think again. The West Louisville FoodPort gets some NYC love, Yum! shareholders are encouraged to question Greg Creed’s pay, and Republic had a first quarter to envy.
To the starting gate …
Are the lessons of Whiskey Row already lost?
Remember Iron Quarter? Todd Blue does.
The entrepreneur, developer and former Louisvillian decamped to Houston last year to chase what he called new opportunities (his IndiGO Auto Group luxury car business is anchored there). But he also was frustrated with what he says is the city’s deference to institutions over individuals when it comes to business, real estate and development deals. Which is a fair point. Just look at U of L’s real estate holdings and the spec offices they’ve built or are building around town, competing directly with private developers.
Blue dropped IL a line last week after reading our latest coverage of the proposed Omni development downtown and, specifically, the revelations that the city subverted its own public process to quickly demolish two historically significant but deteriorating buildings — buildings it’s also contractually obligated to raze for Omni, an inconvenient fact it didn’t talk about until we reported it.
Blue was tarred and feathered after proposing to tear down some or all of the buildings that make up Whiskey Row, a deal Mayor Greg Fischer blessed before he didn’t. After much outcry, the two made room for a new deal, and a group of investors led by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson bought four of the five buildings in the row, which will soon be anchored by a new Old Forester distillery and tourism experience.
That turned out about as good as it could have. But whatever lessons it might’ve imparted about progress, preservation and public participation don’t appear to have landed with the Fischer administration. And Blue, who was careful to praise Fischer as the most business-minded mayor we’ve had in decades, wanted to make sure everyone saw the connection.
He put a parking lot behind a pair of preserved facades where historic buildings once stood, and he proposed a hotel and mixed-use development where the buildings now stand (possibly incorporating some of their facades). At the old Water Company block, Metro is going to leave dirt and straw, and no facades, where the Morrissey Garage and Falls City Theatre Equipment Company building once stood. Fischer last week even floated the idea of a private investor coming in to save the former Water Company headquarters (or its facade), which is the next under consideration at the site, as the city doesn’t have the money to do so. Which, insiders tell us, was met with a collective “ugh.”
Blue says he’s excited about what became of Whiskey Row, and he called it a win for all involved. But now, as the city sits on the precipice of the biggest economic development deal in downtown history with Omni, he sees a lesson lost, an opportunity to progress missed or ignored. And he’s not alone.
“What scares me about Louisville is the institutional support that’s received versus the individual entrepreneurial support that’s received,” he says. “Why do U of L and the city and whoever else get to play by different rules than an entrepreneur developer who’s trying for 10 years to give everything he had to take risks and help the city?”
Go watch Stephen Reily’s TEDxManhattan talk on local food economies
It’s safe to say, at this point, that local food in Louisville is well past the point of fad. It’s an established part of our culture, menus and daily cooking routines. But what is the state of our local food economy overall right now, and how can we improve it?
Louisville entrepreneur and local food visionary Stephen Reily gave a TEDxManhattan talk last month, as part of the group’s “Changing the Way We Eat” series, in which he addresses that question. The founder of Seed Capital KY outlined his group’s plan for the West Louisville FoodPort, which would occupy 24 acres on West Muhammad Ali Boulevard, for the NYC audience, as well as his ideas for how to make local food a stronger, more efficient business.
Find 10 minutes and watch it.
If you’re not familiar with the “food port” concept, here’s a primer: It’s an urban business park where all levels of the local food economy — from production and processing to storage, distribution and waste recycling — are located. Think UPS WorldPort or RiverPort, both centralized parks where various players in logistics and distribution locate and do business, as Reily points out in the presentation.
“Too many transactions in the local food economy remain small-scale, one-to-one and expensive,” Reily explains. “Farmers are still having to take on too many jobs and too much risk just to get a part of their crop sold. And buyers, especially restaurants and institutional buyers, are having to work too hard to get the local food they want.”
Reily says demand for local food exceeds supply by some $300 million in Louisville, and food hubs, farmers markets and CSAs — though all positive and essential contributors — can’t meet the need alone. He says there’s plenty of capital out there to support local food efforts — he cites Kiva Zip — but there’s both very little infrastructure and inadequate business models to scale up.
Speaking of plenty of capital, Seed continues to raise funds for the FoodPort, which it estimates would require $20 million. The project got a boost recently via a $1 million grant from the James Graham Brown Foundation. If it’s ultimately successful, look for Reily and Seed Capital to recreate it in other markets.