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The former Marine Electric building at 102 W. Main St. may be converted into a hotel.

Welcome to the October 28 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 at 7 a.m.

As we prepare for our Insider’s Meetup this afternoon at Vincenzo’s, we’ll have multiple topics for discussion including what’s next for RiverPark Place, with Nicki Sibley from Poe Companies giving us a glimmer.

As we look back on two years of MBBs, we’ve had big scoops about promising projects and epic failures. We’re tagging this “the world might be about to change” edition, considering what may be coming for downtown Louisville.

We told you last week we’ve been hearing bits and pieces about a new, focused effort for one last shot at expanded gaming in Kentucky. We think we have all the pieces now for what’s going on, and it may prove to be one of the biggest stories of the year. (And yeah, we seem to be saying that each week. It’s just that this time, it may be true.)

Imagine the downtown Louisville of 2020 with multiple urban bourbon tourist attractions, an expanded Kentucky International Convention Center, clusters of new hotels and retail … and an upscale casino.

That’s the 30,000-foot view of what could happen if the Kentucky Wins effort led by Ed Glasscock, Jonathan Blue and Terry McBrayer succeeds. There are so many moving pieces to this effort that we don’t have everything, but we expect to if we can talk to Churchill Downs executives this morning. And you’re going to be amazed at how ambitious a vision this is.

We can tell you this … a lot of people who matter are on board, including Jim Wood, president and CEO of the Greater Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. Wood confirmed to us Friday a downtown casino would put Louisville not just on par with Cincy – where one just opened – but make us more competitive with mega-convention markets.

More as soon as we assemble the final details.

Fred Durham
Fred Durham

• We all were waiting to see what Fred Durham’s move was going to be after exiting Cafe Press, where he was a co-founder and CEO. We were all under the impression this story would break a year ago when Durham started popping up at entrepreneur groups including OpenCoffeeLou and Startup Weekends.

Now, we know he’s hired Weston Hagan from GlowTouch. Sources say their plans include creating a high-tech business in the manufacturing space, along with a second novel business that matches up with Louisville’s biggest strengths. More when we can give the details without getting a bunch of people in trouble. And it is a bunch of people, because everyone is buzzing about this ….

Okay, one more thing: According to more than one source, Durham and Co. are looking to drop this effort into an exciting section of the city. Hmmm.

• Last week, we told you about possible pending changes at Mall St. Matthews. This week, our sources followed up with a tip: A Kentucky commercial real estate player may be on the hunt for Oxmoor Center east down Shelbyville Road from Mall St. Matthews.

Sources tell us Talmage Hocker is creating a retail fund to acquire Class B-plus retail properties, and that Hocker has been seen touring Oxmoor.

It seems improbable to us that Hocker can raise the money to buy the 1 million square foot mall from Chicago-based General Growth Properties. After all, GGP is a publicly traded REIT with 120-plus retail properties. GGP also owns Mall St. Matthews, though not the property under it, which belongs to the Arterburn family.

But there is one interesting detail we almost forgot.

Owensboro-based Hocker & Associates owned Oxmoor from 2003 to 2005. The last time Hocker bought it, the seller was the Bullitt family trust that owns the land under the shopping center. Another big REIT, Winmar Co., a subsidiary of Seattle-based insurance giant Safeco Corp., owned Oxmoor, selling it on the cheap to the Bullitt family trust, Bluegrass Corp.

Notice we said on the cheap. There are myriad business/financial reasons to buy and sell commercial real estate. Every time our tax attorney friends try to explain it all to us, we nod off mid-lecture.

Anywho, under GGP, Oxmoor has had a lot of activity including landing Louisville’s only Apple Store back in 2007. Also, Oxmoor just landed a huge H & M, which hasn’t opened, part of a major interior redo. The question becomes, what would Hocker do with Oxmoor? Because shoppers seem to prefer open “festival” centers such as Shelbyville Road Plaza and Summit Louisville.

Also, Hocker takes a big risk that someone doesn’t come along and build a multi-use shopping center/office/residential development near Norton Commons.

As we profiled developer Steve Poe last week, along with his expanded vision for RiverPark Place, we uncovered more evidence of another scoop. About six weeks ago, MBB reported yet another hotel project in downtown Louisville, this one at the former Marine Electric building on Main Street, across from Whiskey Row, and one block east of KFC Yum! Center. At the time, we heard Poe Companies was involved. Since then, we’ve chipped away at this, and we believe Poe is the developer.

That would make this closer to being real since Poe Companies developed the 600-plus room Downtown Marriott at Third and Jefferson streets and the Springhill Suites/Fairfield Inn complex a block east among many other projects. A reliable source says expect details as early as next week …..

• Nucleus attracting global biotech research firm Atria Senior Living as anchor tenant for its embryonic research park had a source marveling how Kentucky spent the better part of 10 years wooing the biotech sector with Kentucky BioAlliance. “It was a sexy thing to talk about, but at the end of the day, the money and patience just wasn’t there,” said the source.

Now here is the kicker… the Cabinet for Economic Development officials just contacted Kentucky BioAlliance and offered to fully fund the organization for the foreseeable future.  That is, of course, if the group were willing to fire their interim executive director and put in place a Cabinet for Economic Development employee. The organization would cease to be an independent voice for the biotech community.

It gets even more interesting.  The board is actually considering the move. At least one board member believes this is the alliance’s only option, and the board has to sign over control of the organization to the cabinet.

From the source:

In light of the Nucleus announcement, I find it really interesting the state continues to chase these biotech companies (for a substantial amount of money) when it is clear we don’t have the support mechanism to do anything with them.

• Speaking of Nucleus, if we’ve had one conversation with developers and commercial real estate brokers, we’ve had a dozen. The consensus is, they believe U of L competes unfairly with the private sector by using their tax-free foundation, their ability to use the state debt capacity and their ability to get tax increment financing districts in places where development already is thriving. Each conversation seems to end with, “Don’t think we’re going to take this sitting down.” Our instincts tell us a showdown is coming sooner than later.

• Last week, we told you about the emerging effort to convert Standard Country Club into a suburban hub for the landlocked Jewish Community Center at Dutchmans and Cannons lanes. Now we know Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence trustees are in discussions with Standard executives about purchasing the 150-acre property.

We went to our best sources in the Jewish community this weekend, and here’s what we found out. The Jewish Heritage Fund sees the potential for the Standard facility to become a social center closer to where the majority of community members live. But, said our sources, it remains to be seen if the fund can make the golf course work.

If the course can’t generate sufficient revenue to cover maintenance expenses, then it might be redeveloped, with JCC East keeping the country club pools, clubhouse and other facilities, say our sources. This could be a turning point in Louisville’s community, where about 8,000 people identify as Jewish. More as soon as we hear more.

Actual Monday Business Briefing briefs:

• A lot of Louisville-based corporations are hitting on all cylinders these days including Humana and Brown-Forman. But without much notice, Papa John’s International shares have been on a tear. IL’s Steve Coomes will parse the numbers in a post later this morning.

• Investment is accelerating in NuLu. Late Friday, Metro Government media types sent out a notice that Garner Narrative received a $50,000 façade loan to renovate a vacant building at 217 S. Clay St. Art Gallery owners Joyce Garner and Gordon Garner are investing $150,000 in the building, with plans to lease the first floor commercial space, with upper floor apartments. There are several more deals in the works including a big one.

• Countless sources have suggested we do an investigative post on all the new hookah shops opening in the Highlands, often within yards of one another. We assigned that story to multiple contributors. We told them to hit the shops, including the ever-so-subtly named Puff Puff Pass at Grinstead Drive and Bardstown Road for some primary-source research.

What we got back were very confusing stories, with every line starting with “dude,” along with allusions to 1970s Cheech and Chong routines. Though we uncovered this: A lot of people think marijuana will be legalized in Kentucky, apparently, and are trying to get positioned with Amsterdam-style smoke shops. More if any of our reporters reappear.

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