Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.

Homes sales down for first time in seven months, inventory remains low

Home in Rock Springs Louisville KY | Photo: Tre Pryor
Despite low inventory and rapidly rising home sale prices, 2016 was a record year. | Photo by Tre Pryor

For the first time since July, the number of homes sold in the Louisville MSA has declined.

Home sales dropped 4.5 percent during the month of February compared with the same month in 2016. At the same time, the number of available homes for sale dove 21 percent compared with February 2016, according to numbers from Greater Louisville Association of Realtors.

The housing market for homes valued at $300,000 or less “is getting really tight,” GLAR CEO Lisa Stephenson said, partly because people want to find a new home before the look to sell their current house. “That just perpetuates the problem.”

As IL previously reported, the building industry also has struggled to keep up with demand for new housing after taking a major hit during the recession.

Despite the fact that housing inventory has remained low for at least a year, the housing market in Louisville and the surrounding counties has continued to improve with most months seeing increases in home sales and home prices. In February, the median home price in the Louisville MSA rose 9.6 percent, to $156,450, according to GLAR. Year-to-date, the median home price went up 8.5 percent.

Although home sales dropped slightly in February, Stephenson said people shouldn’t read too much into it, adding that the decline amounts to 50 fewer homes sold in the Louisville MSA. The number of residences sold year-to-date is only down 17 homes overall.

“I think it’s too early to tell if we are on a downslide,” Stephenson said. “Looking at the last year, inventory has been tight for a while and it really hasn’t impacted” home sales.

She added that she’s already seen home sales improving in March compared to the prior March.

“This past week was much higher than the week a year before,” she said. —Caitlin Bowling

The Rudyard Kipling changes hands again

The Rudyard Kipling has changed hands multiple times. | File Photo

The building that housed the former beloved music venue The Rudyard Kipling is under new ownership.

Emmanuel Dumigron and fiancée, Maria Snell, have purchased the building, at 422 W. Oak St., for $350,000, according to county property records. IL reported Thursday that Dumigron has an agreement to sell his bar, Louis’s the Ton, to real estate agent Isaiah Hoagland.

Dumigron told IL that he and Snell, who makes jewelry and taxidermy, plan to renovate the 7,000-square-foot building and open an art gallery and boutique in the front sometime in August or September.

“It’s going to be kind of like an art gallery/boutique with rotating artist and permanent jewelry makers,” Dumigron said, where they will host monthly events.

The second floor will serve as the couple’s living space, and the back will be turned into a workshop and office for Broken Masterpieces, a design and fabrication company Dumigron is starting.

He will do everything from freelance graphic design and photography to furniture fabrication and motorcycle repairs.

“It gives me that creative freedom I’ve been seeking,” he said.

Dumigron and Snell signed a contract for deed on March 10 with Kenneth and Sheila Pyle, the owners of The Rudyard Kipling, who’ve been trying to find a stable buyer for the property for years.

The Pyles struggled to keep The Rudyard Kipling open and eventually sold the business to another couple. However, it still ended up shutting down, leaving the couple with an empty building. They signed a lease last year to a group that wanted to open a restaurant/sports bar/music venue, but nothing ever came of it. —Caitlin Bowling

Classical music station WUOL receives $100,000 grant from PNC Bank

Louisville Public Media announced this week that it received a $100,000 grant from PNC Bank for classical programming on 90.5 WUOL Classical Louisville. The funds will go to education outreach to foster participation in the arts via classical music and will focus on minority and low-income youth.

The station will be creating a new podcast, “The Music Box,” hosted and produced by Education Programs Manager Sara Soltau. The podcast is for pre-K through elementary school classrooms and families and will deliver an introduction to music for children with limited or no access to music education.

The podcast will introduce children to diverse composers, music history and instruments. Soltau will be recording in classrooms across the Louisville area, speaking with students and teachers about music.

“Engaging our community’s young children in music and with musical instruments exposes their minds to sound, touch and thinking concepts that develop math, science, reading and expression skills that help them succeed in school and life,” said Chuck Denny, regional president of PNC Bank, Greater Louisville and Tennessee in a news release.

Louisville Public Media’s Kirsten Pfalzgraf told IL that its top corporate donors are Brown-Forman, Eye Care Institute, PNC Foundation, Republic Bank, Sullivan University System and the University of Louisville.

WUOL has educational programming already in place. The station has placed over 1,000 instruments in schools since the beginning of their Instrumental Partners program in 2003. In 2013, WUOL began its Summer Listening program, which is like a summer reading program, but for music. Families are encouraged to listen together.

In 2016, for example, Soltau visited over 2,000 students with her Sharing Music, Sharing Stories program during which she performed her one-woman show, “Ferdinand the Bull,” and recorded students’ reactions to it to air on the station.

Also in 2016, Lara Downes was WUOL’s artist-in-residence and participated in school outreach.

In December, WUOL celebrated 40 years on the air in Louisville with a rebroadcast of the very first hour-and-a-half of 90.5 WUOL from 1976.  —Melissa Chipman

Shalimar restaurant owner opening gas station, carry-out restaurant on Broadway

Could downtown Louisville be getting a grab-n-go Indian food?

It’s currently unclear. According to documents filed with the city, businessman Sukh Bains has proposed building a gasoline station, convenience store and drive-thru restaurant with carry-out at 1025 W. Broadway. Bains owns multiple properties under Shalimar Investments, as well as owns Shalimar Restaurant, Liquor Palace stores and numerous gas stations in the area.

IL reached out to Bains but did not hear back.

Plans call for a 3,733-square-foot building along Broadway. The property is currently vacant and sits across the street from the Transit Authority of River City’s headquarters. —Caitlin Bowling

First of four fermentation tanks arrive at the future Old Forester Distillery on Whiskey Row

The fermentation tanks have arrived! | Photo by Sara Havens

Thursday afternoon, a handful Brown-Forman employees, construction workers and media greeted the first two fermentation tanks that were installed in the Old Forester Distillery, under construction at Whiskey Row. The 9-foot-wide, 14-foot-tall fermenters arrived from Stainless Fabrication Inc. in Springfield, Mo.

The tanks are the first major piece of equipment installed at the distillery, which is still shooting to open in the spring of 2018. Next to arrive, according to a press release, will be parts for the bottling line. The still — which will come from Vendome Copper & Brass Works just down the street — will be installed in July.

Each fermenter has a 4,500-gallon capacity and will produce 450 gallons of alcohol. They’ll be used to produce 100,000 cases of bourbon from the distillery each year. —Sara Havens

Head of Louisville Regional Airport Authority announces plans to retire

Skip Miller, executive director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority, addressed the local rotary. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Talk about giving plenty of notice — Charles “Skip” Miller, longtime executive director of the Louisville Regional Airport Authority, told his board of directors that he planned to retire no later than March 31, 2018, according to a news release from the authority.

As head of the airport authority for 14 years, Miller has overseen operations at the Louisville International Airport, including the recent $17.5 million renovation.

The airport authority board has retained ADK Consulting of Florida to conduct a national search for the position of executive director, the release says. In the meantime, Miller will focus on completing strategic goals and slowly reduce his day-to-day management responsibilities.

Former executive director for planning and development Karen Scott will return on May 1 to assume daily staff management responsibilities, according to the release. —Caitlin Bowling

Humana raises $1 billion, reiterates Obamacare exit

Brian Kane

Humana said this week that it was raising $1 billion through bonds for “general corporate purposes,” though executives’ comments hint at acquisitions.

The Louisville-based insurer said that it was selling $600 million in bonds with a 3.95 percent interest rate that would mature in 2027, and another $400 million with a 4.8 percent interest rate that would mature in 2047.

Humana CFO Brian Kane told investors Thursday that the company locked in low-interest rates and gave the company money to bolster business.

“This really gives us very significant capacity to pursue our strategy and look for  opportunities, really in the health care services side,” Kane said of merger and acquisition targets, speaking Thursday at Barclay’s Global Health Conference.

The company had said about a month ago that it also would deploy some of its available cash — it had nearly $14 billion at the end of last year — on higher dividends and share buybacks.

At the end of next month, Humana will pay a cash dividend of 40 cents per share, up 38 percent from the prior quarter. The company also said it plans to buy back shares of at least $2 billion this year.

Kane said, “We feel it’s important to balance the repurchase opportunity with M&A and also investing in our core growth.”

Bruce Broussard

At the same conference, Humana CEO Bruce Broussard also reiterated the company’s decision to exit, in 2018,  the health care exchanges that are a central part of the Affordable Care Act, also known informally as Obamacare.

“As we think about the future, you won’t see us go on the exchanges,” Broussard told investors. “We … planned that exit. We made the commitment there and even if they were to change it to be very viable, we wouldn’t be back in.”

About a month ago, Humana said that it had worked “diligently” to figure out how it could profitably offer health insurance on the individual market. The company said it reduced its networks, made changes to health insurance policies, got out of some geographic markets and increased premiums. The changes haven’t worked, however, prompting Humana to decide “that we cannot continue to offer this coverage for 2018.”

Through 2017, Humana is providing health insurance in the individual commercial market in 11 states, down from 15 last year. Almost all of the individual customers signed up for Humana insurance through the Obamacare exchanges.

The Obamacare customers have cost Humana hundreds of millions of dollars, because their premiums have not been enough to pay for their medical costs. At the end of 2016, Humana had about 655,000 individual commercial customers, down 27 percent from a year earlier.

Humana said it generated $3.3 billion in health insurance premium revenue in 2016 from ACA-compliant policies and expects that figure to fall to about $875 million this year.

The individual commercial business accounted for about 6.4 percent of premium revenue last year, compared to about 75 percent from Medicare.

Despite the Obamacare woes, Humana generated a net profit of $614 million, down about 52 percent from 2015. —Boris Ladwig

Bevin tweet raises Ford employees’ ire

Gov. Matt Bevin gave a shout-out to Ford Motor Co. and a Louisville union on Twitter, but some local union members reacted without much appreciation.

Bevin wrote, “Grateful to @Ford and the many men and women of UAW862 who make the best selling trucks in America.” The governor posted the message above two aerial photos of Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant on Chamberlain Lane.

The message received 67 “likes” and was retweeted 13 times — but it also received some unfavorable responses, including some from members of the United Auto Workers Local 862. The union represents workers at KTP and at Louisville Assembly Plant.

Wendy replied, “So grateful you passed #RTW laws as soon as you could. #hypocrite #disgustedinKY.”

RTW references so-called right-to-work legislation, which bars agreements between employers and unions from making the payment of union dues a condition for employment. Proponents say such laws give workers a choice in whether they want to pay union dues, while opponents say it undermines unions and lowers wages. Bevin signed the legislation in January.

Jon Kramer wrote, “Right to work laws are government interference in the free market. Go away you anti American.”

Suzi advised Bevin to “Go back to taking selfies.”

Other Twitter users used even harsher language to criticize the governor.

The ire reflects a general discontent among local union members about the state legislature’s actions, said Todd Dunn, president of Local 862.

Local union members are paying more attention to what’s happening in Frankfort this year, he said, especially to proposals to increase the sales tax, to take away lunch breaks, to allow companies to pay less than minimum wage under some circumstances and to and make changes to pension plans, which has made retirees “furious,” Dunn said.

“A lot of our members are very upset at what they’re seeing,” he said. “Actions speak louder than tweets.”—Boris Ladwig