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.

Open date set for Marriott restaurant rebrand

The Porch is a casual restaurant focused on Kentucky-sourced food and classics. | Courtesy of Boxcar PR

As part of a $30 million renovation, the Louisville Marriott Downtown previously said it planned to replace its outdated sports bar restaurant with a Kentucky-focused concept called The Porch. The hotel recently announced via social media that The Porch will open on Jan. 24.

The Porch, located at 280 W. Jefferson St., will be a full-service restaurant that serves dishes made with regionally sourced ingredients and taps into what is unique about Kentucky — bluegrass, bourbon and the thoroughbred industry, said the Marriott’s general manager David Greene, describing the ambience as a “casual, comfortable feel.”

“That is where the name The Porch resonated with us,” he said. “It’s where people gather. It’s where you welcome people.”

The restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner daily as well as offer happy hour specials seven days a week and brunch Fridays through Sundays. While the menus aren’t complete, expect some solid Southern classics, including country ham and home-style fried chicken. Pricing will be “approachable,” Greene said.

For the new concept, Marriott is hiring 160 employees who will wear jeans and denim shirts. The bartenders also will don handcrafted leather aprons.

The Porch is replacing Champions Sports Bar & Grille, a sports-centric restaurant that Greene said doesn’t have a place within the hotel anymore. The Marriott’s other restaurant Blu Italian Grille also will undergo a change into an as-yet-unnamed bar and small bites concept that will focus on wine and bourbon. The bar is expected to open sometime in April.

Marriott decided to overhaul the hotel and restaurants because of the $207 million renovation of the Kentucky International Convention Center, which sits across the street,  Greene said. “It was a very big driving force. The renovation of the hotel was all predicated on KICC closing.”

With the convention center slated to reopen this coming summer, Greene said hotel bookings are “strong” looking as far forward as 2023. —Caitlin Bowling

Churchill Downs shares spike on Big Fish sale

Screenshot of Dark Parables, a Big Fish game. | Courtesy of Big Fish Games

Shares of Churchill Downs spiked nearly 7 percent Thursday after the Louisville-based gaming company said that it planned to sell it biggest business unit and use much of the proceeds to bolster its stock price by buying back shares.

The company said Wednesday evening that it had reached an agreement to sell its mobile gaming subsidiary, Big Fish Games, to Australia-based Aristocrat Leisure Limited, for $990 million.

Big Fish, founded in 2002, makes casual games for computers and mobile devices. It employs 700, mostly in Seattle.

CDI had bought the company in late 2014 for about $100 million less. At the time, CEO Bill Carstanjen said that the acquisition would give Churchill Downs “new products, new customers, new geographies and new sizeable growth opportunities.”

This week, Carstanjen said the sale of Big Fish Games would allow Churchill Downs to “refocus our strategy on our core assets and capabilities including growing the Kentucky Derby, expanding the casino segment, TwinSpires.com and other forms of real money gaming, and maximizing our thoroughbred racing operations.”

While the Big Fish unit has been the company’s largest by sales, accounting for about a third of revenue, it also has been the least profitable: Through the first nine months of the year, the unit had generated an operating profit of $71 million on revenue of $342.5 million, for an operating margin of 21 percent. CDI’s racing unit, on the other hand, generated an operating profit of $92.3 million on revenue of $228 million, an operating margin of 40 percent, or about double that of the mobile gaming unit.

The company said it expected to close the sale in the first quarter and use the proceeds for “general corporate purposes,” a catch-all phrase that can mean basically anything. The board has approved the use of up to $500 million of proceeds for share buybacks, a move that inflates the share price.

CDI shares on Thursday closed at $235, up 6.71 percent. The S&P 500 was up less than 1 percent. —Boris Ladwig

General manager for convention center hired

Stacey Church | Courtesy of Kentucky Venues

Kentucky State Fair Board Thursday approved the hiring of Stacey Church, assistant director of the Fort Worth Convention Center and Will Rogers Memorial Center, as general manager of the Kentucky International Convention Center.

Her salary will be $150,000 a year.

“Stacey’s management experience, skill set in finance, and commitment to innovation are tremendous assets to Kentucky’s tourism industry as the center prepares to reopen in August 2018,” said Don Parkinson, secretary of Kentucky’s Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, in a blog post.

An Elkhart, Ind., native, Church graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1997. She has previously worked in executive positions with Spectra Venue Management facilities in Springfield, Mass., and South Bend, Ind.

“Our new general manager brings exceptional experience to provide leadership and develop new business for the new center,” said Dr. Mark Lynn, chairman of the Kentucky State Fair Board and interim CEO of Kentucky Venues, in the post.

The convention center is currently undergoing a $207 million expansion and renovation and will reopen in summer 2018. It, along with the Kentucky Exposition Center, are part of Kentucky Venues, which is overseen by the Kentucky State Fair Board and the state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet.

Kentucky Venues also is looking for a general manager for the exposition center. —Caitlin Bowling

Highlands restaurant closing, morphing into subscription food and packaged goods business

LOVAFARE is closing down but will live on in a different business concept. | Courtesy of LOVAFARE

Vegan, allergy-free and sugar-free cafe LOVAFARE is closing its doors at 2009 Highland Ave., and owner Adriena Dame is moving and reshaping the business at a storefront at 8030 New Lagrange Road.

Rather than a small restaurant, Dame decided to focus on packaged goods like protein bars and a subscription food service that will offer customers prepared foods that cater to a variety of diets and food allergies.

The new business will offer yoga and meditation, cooking classes, empowerment clubs, Tibetan acupressure, Reiki and holistic coaching.

The existing Highlands store will remain open this month with limited hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday through Sunday.

LOVAFARE first opened as NOLAFARE in June 2016. —Caitlin Bowling

Low housing inventory, rising prices keep first-time homebuyers out of the market

The annual survey looks at how and why people are buying and selling homes. | Courtesy of the National Association of Realtors

The National Association of Realtor’s annual “Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers” showed this year that the number of first-time home buyers continued to slip.

First-time home buyers made up 34 percent of all home buyers in 2017, compared to 35 percent last year. While that is only a single percentage point difference, that statistic has typically sat at 40 percent, according to the report.

The median home price increased slightly this year to $235,000.

The association stated in its report that increasing home prices and a dearth of homes on the market is “pushing out lower income buyers” as they may be unable to find a home they want or afford it.

The national trend is true locally as well.

“Louisville’s low inventory is leaving first-time buyers hesitant to enter the market” despite interest in owning a home, Greater Louisville Association of Realtors said in a statement about the report. Inventory has remained a problem in Louisville and beyond for years now.

Notably, the market changes seem to be benefiting real estate agents in at least one way. The number of people using a real estate agent to purchase a home reached the historic high of 87 percent.

The most popular reason for people to sell their homes is that it was too small. Others wanted to move close to friends and family or were relocating for a job. —Caitlin Bowling

In Brief

“Courting Kings” by Remo Tulliani

High-end accessories designer Remo Tulliani announced Wednesday that $25 from every copy of his latest book “Courting Kings” sold through Dec. 31 would be donated to the Muhammad Ali Center. The book features 20 profiles of men who are considered “kings” of their industries, and Ali is featured prominently in the final chapter. It’s available at Tulliani.com, Amazon and others.

On Wednesday, part-time Kentucky resident Linda Bruckheimer was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation Board of Trustees. That national nonprofit organization works to save the country’s historic places, a cause Bruckheimer and her husband, Jerry champion, for. The couple created the Linda and Jerry Bruckheimer Kentucky Preservation Fund that supports the preservation of historic buildings, communities and landscapes in Kentucky. Christina Lee Brown ,of Louisville, a philanthropist, environmentalist and preservationist, has also been named to the board.

Solstice Dental & Aesthetics, which offers concierge-style dentistry, has opened at 2301 Terra Crossing Blvd. Its owner, Krysta Manning, said in the announcement, “I set out to create a unique business concept that combines social responsibility, sustainability and innovation.” She earned her MBA in Entrepreneurship and DMD from the University of Louisville.

An episode of the Travel Channel’sFood Paradise” featuring Mussel & Burger Bar and chef Fernando Martinez will air at 8 p.m. Sunday on Dec. 3. The segment was filmed in July.

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