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.
The myriad efforts underway to bring west Louisville into the city’s greater economic consciousness are set to get a minor, though meaningful, boost, as the agency responsible for helping shape the future of downtown is set to officially expand its definition of the city’s urban core to include more of west Louisville.
The Louisville Downtown Partnership has been collecting signatures from business and property owners in the city’s West End and will present a petition to the Mayor’s Office and Metro Council in the coming weeks to officially expand the Business Improvement District on Main and Market streets westward from Ninth to 12th streets. The effort comes as Metro government also plans to seek federal funding to create a plan to tear down the infamous Ninth Street Divide — the I-64 on-ramp at Ninth Street that both literally and figuratively divides the community along racial and socioeconomic lines.
Once the council approves the expansion, those blocks will have access to more services, including supplemental cleaning to what the city already provides, as well as beautification, enhanced safety patrols, physical improvements including new pedestrian signage, and additional marketing for the area to both visitors and locals.
In other words, it will start to look and feel a little more like downtown west of Ninth Street near the Ohio River. And the hope is the change in perception will help spur additional economic growth and community involvement.
“So much of the obstacles are perception,” said Ethan Howard, deputy director of the downtown partnership. “So whenever you get people thinking a little bit differently about the area and taking a real look at it, they start to see all these great things are there.”
While the expansion encompasses a relatively small geographical area, it will complement Metro’s efforts to continue developing from the river southward, starting with the long-ballyhooed plan to create Waterfront Park West.
“When we look at what happened on the East Main side of town, the waterfront redevelopment has transformed Louisville — particularly in the business district,” said Kevin Fields, senior vice president and COO of the Louisville Central Community Center, a leader in efforts to grow the west Louisville economy. “So I think it’s a natural progression to continue to build off the waterfront, now as you go west.”
Field said his organization is more focused now on efforts to map the future of Russell, one of the most influential African-American neighborhoods in the city, after the federal government provided funding through its Choice Neighborhoods program to create a plan to raze the Beecher Terrace housing project and better connect the area to the broader urban core.
He said he hopes the downtown partnership will consider expanding further south and west, to include more of west Louisville — particularly as Russell transitions. Cassia Herron, an urban planner who works in community development and focuses on west Louisville, said the expansion is good — but it’s low-hanging fruit.
“I think it’s a safe investment into west Louisville,” she said. “To me, the hard work is always the hard work.”
Herron said too many development efforts focused on west Louisville right now are top-down, and that it remains difficult to get support for resident-centered projects to grow the economy within western neighborhoods.
New #LouisvilleLove billboard stinks it up in Butchertown
It’s a clever marketing campaign designed to engage the younger, tech-savvier set in a little self-referential bonding: #LouisvilleLove, launched by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, in which one takes a photo of something great about the city, then hashtags it on Twitter, creating a solid stream of praise for the city. The billboards accompanying the campaign are popping up all over the place, each with a tagline that’s a twist on a more common phrase about love.
The campaign is entirely inoffensive and fun. Which is why we were so intrigued by the recent billboard in Butchertown, a neighborhood known for — among many a splendored thing, to be sure — the at-times overwhelming stench of the JBS Swift meat processing plant.
The billboard, which stands above the Swift plant, reads: “It’s in the air in Butchertown.”
We were certain it was a pro-level prank. And wow, it would have been a good trolling of critics who just won’t leave the poor packing plant alone about its smell. But nope.
“The Louisville Love campaign encompasses various forms of outdoor media, and this specific tagline relates to an often used term of ‘Love is in the air,'” said Gathan Borden, director of brand marketing and advertising for the CVB. “We use various taglines across all of the media vehicles to make them situational, and this particular billboard is in no way an insult or joke, as the Butchertown area is a thriving tourism district that we tout in our marketing collateral.”
Borden told IL it’s a reference to the sensual experience of places like Copper & Kings, Cellar Door Chocolates and Bourbon Barrel Foods. And of course we buy that, but didn’t somebody, somewhere stand up during a meeting and suggest this might draw the wrong kind of attention?
“Any and all marketing can be interpreted in various ways, but this billboard is not a standalone, so you cannot analyze it by itself,” Borden said. “It is part of a comprehensive outdoor, digital and print campaign that you should look at holistically.”
Except that people in Butchertown don’t see 10 billboards encompassing a broad campaign. They see that one.
“There’s clearly more in the air around the JBS Swift plant than just love — but we do love Butchertown and are pleased to see it being promoted as a thriving tourism district,” said Andy Cornelius, president of the Butchertown Neighborhood Association. “And we appreciate the use of city resources to raise awareness about the air quality issues surrounding the JBS facility.”
Big Yum! investor wants company to spin off China business: Keith Meister, head of investment firm Corvex Management, just purchased $1.5 billion worth of Yum! stock. The reason? He thinks there could be huge upside to the share price if the firm spins off its Chinese operations. Meister said at a recent conference in New York that the company’s quality control problems in China are mostly in the rearview, and going forward, it has unmatched access to the ever-growing Chinese middle class. He predicted a spinoff would jolt the stock 50-90 percent by the end of 2016 (it currently trades at just under $94). At present, 5,301 of Yum’s 6,400 Chinese locations are owned by the company. Meister said it would be far better if Yum! made all the China stores into a separate firm that would act as one big franchise, paying royalties to the home firm. This would help Yum’s China operations become more authentically Chinese, the thinking goes. It could also help Yum! focus on other parts of the company, such as the struggling Pizza Hut brand. In a public statement, Yum! didn’t rule out such a spinoff: “We welcome the input of our shareholders and remain committed to explore all options to enhance long-term shareholder value.” —David Serchuk
Kentucky Peerless set to open June 4: The Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co., which dates back to the 1880s in Henderson, Ky., has been dormant since Prohibition. But no longer. The company, which has been rehabbing its gorgeous building at 120 N. 10th St. in west Louisville since February 2014, is set to open the first week in June. The Peerless distillery comes online as several others continue extensive rehabbing work of downtown buildings, including Beam (at Fourth Street Live), Old Forester (Whiskey Row), Michter’s (Fort Nelson Building) and Angel’s Envy (across from Slugger Field).
New eats on Bardstown Road: We noticed recently a sign for the Wheelhouse Cafe at 1283 Bardstown Road, the smallish house tucked between Time & Space (formerly Highlands Tap Room) and The Joy Luck in the Highlands. And we’ve been able to confirm that the current owners of Time & Space will be operating the eatery, which will bring a diner vibe. Details — including hours and a timeline for opening — are still scarce. We’ll have more as they do.
That’s one expensive biergarten: Speaking of the Highlands, the former KFC Eleven prototype store at the corner of Bardstown Road and Baxter Avenue in the Highlands has been listed for sale at $1.5 million. KFC parent company Yum! Brands shuttered the store late last month and announced it would put the property on the market. TRIO is handling the sale, which could include an option for a long-term lease on some of the parking on the roughly half-acre parcel. We’ve been hearing there’s ample interest in the spot, one of the most visible in the Highlands. And while some might wish for a return to form — as an outdoor biergarten, which it was in the 1870s — that’s a mighty high sticker for such a use. One commercial real estate insider tells us the price — $600K over its assessed value — seems a little high, but to wait to see what the market might tolerate.
Velocity grads get national mention: CompleteSet, arguably the golden child of the Velocity accelerator program, got a nice name-drop in a Wall Street Journal article this week in a story on the “toys to life” fad. The company is a web and mobile platform that helps pop culture and toy enthusiasts find places to buy items to add to their collections. “Toys to life” was a new one on us, but if you have a kid who plays video games, you’re probably familiar with the billion-dollar industry. Certain gaming companies allow you to buy tiny figurines of characters that you can upload into your game using wireless technology. They run about $10. The WSJ spoke to founder Gary Darna, who said people have asked CompleteSet for help finding more than 2,145 toys-to-life figures. CompleteSet has raised upwards of $684,000 and is HQ’d in Cincinnati. —Melissa Chipman
The Week that Was
The news Thursday that General Motors is planning to invest $439 million to upgrade and expand its Bowling Green Corvette plant is significant for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that a big multinational is happy enough in Kentucky to place a bet on the state’s future. The GM investment, which will include a new 450,000-square-foot paint shop, is part of a broader $5.4 billion upgrade to its American shops and will include significant technology enhancements. That bodes well for the BG operation’s future.
The GM announcement also was welcome news to those caught up worrying about Volvo’s choice to build a new manufacturing facility in South Carolina rather than Georgia or Kentucky. The fact is, Volvo wasn’t ever coming to Kentucky. The company didn’t lobby state legislators, and insiders in January were trying to tamp down enthusiasm that might’ve arisen from the original speculation in the Financial Times.
And while those in the economic development business would never want to cast aside a new opportunity, Kentucky is already home to Ford, Toyota and GM. Ford invested $600 million in the Louisville Assembly Plant in 2010 and is planning an $80 million expansion of the Kentucky Truck Plant. And Toyota said last year its total investment in the Georgetown facility is now at $6 billion.
Those three automakers also happen to hold the top three U.S. market share positions among all automakers. At three-tenths of one percentage point, Volvo doesn’t even crack the Top 10. That’s on par with Fiat.