Welcome to the Feb. 16 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 updates galore this week. We’ve got updates on big-time, neighborhood-changing projects, an update on a law firm’s woes, and new news on an Old Louisville restaurant spot. We also have big news on the tech front, and some nice additions for the foodie in you (and your freezer). But first…
Hotel NuLu still moving, albeit slowly
We’ve been wondering lately about the wellbeing of the Hotel NuLu project, which was first proposed in late 2013 and originally slated for a groundbreaking last year. The development plan received the necessary approvals about a year ago, and Metro Council already has agreed to tax increment financing to help defray certain development costs of the $34 million project.
But the 1.4-acre parcel at the corner of Market and Shelby streets is still a gravel lot, and we’ve been hearing whispers that the planned 150-room hotel was on life support. Specifically, after delays, there’s been concern — some a little ham-fisted, but it’s there nonetheless — over when financing for the project is going to come through.
“You can add me to the list of people wondering,” jokes Ron Turnier, president of Creation Gardens, who owns the land.
Turnier and a group of partners are behind the project, which would occupy the lot next to the former Creation Gardens headquarters at 725 E. Market St. The six-story Hotel NuLu — which would be a Marriott AC Hotel — would feature 10,000 square feet of Class A retail space on the first floor, an 8,000-square-foot rooftop deck and conference center oriented toward the Ohio River, and a 250-plus space parking structure.
The group wants the boutique hotel to be a “center of gravity” for NuLu’s commercial district, which in the past several years has transformed from an also-ran to a destination. Their development plan also includes an intriguing partnership pitch:
This Hotel will form partnerships with local post-secondary educational institutions in the community to provide internships for Culinary, Hospitality and Business Management students in those schools. It will provide professional training and job experience for students from a broad range of backgrounds to strengthen their educational experience and showcase this hotel, and this community, as a regional destination with a national or even international staff. The goal is to create an environment that is more than a hotel, but is a travel experience that puts the traveler in touch with the cultural identity of Louisville in every way.
But you don’t get there without financing, which is far from a lock — even when you have TIF approval that would guarantee a portion of occupational and property tax revenues from the hotel to cover the project bonds over a 20-year period.
Turnier is a first-time developer in this game, and it seems he and his partners are doing a little learning on the job. He says they’ve been exploring different financing options and hope to have a deal closed by the end of next month. He hasn’t ID’d a hotel operator to IL, and the prospect of a financing package this late in the process is enough to give some pause.
While Turnier had previously said he hoped to have funding secured last April, he tells IL Hotel NuLu is still happening, with a new plan to break ground this fall.
Chef Maria’s coming to Old Louisville; St. Matthews location to close this weekend
A month ago, IL reported on a wave of new restaurants and retail heading for the Old Louisville commercial corridor. Now we know one of the mystery restaurateurs is Maria Bell of Chef Maria’s Greek Deli.
Bell has confirmed her plans to open Chef Maria’s Bistro at the former Carly Rae’s, on the corner of First and Oak streets. As a result of the move, Bell says she’ll close her current St. Matthews location. The last day is Saturday.
“Fresh food, can’t have two locations,” she tells IL via email. “Plus, I do all the cooking, so I can’t split myself in two or clone me.”
The chef says to expect lots of mezze options, as well as “the typical Greek tapas accompanied with wine or ouzo.” They’re going to have a bar — she’s seeking a full liquor license — as well as wine tastings and an outdoor patio.
Building owner Kim Mowder, whose MTA Capital Group bought the spot for $170,000 last spring, says to expect a mid-March opening. She’s also split the space into two restaurants. IL had reported in January that Ramiro Gandara of Ramiro’s on Frankfort Avenue had been considering a new spot there; those discussions are wrapped, and it’s off the table, we’re told.
Bell says she’s going to be open for lunch and dinner, and she has plans for a Sunday brunch, too. In addition, she’ll be booking live music on Friday evenings.
They’ll be catercorner neighbors of the Toonerville Deli, which just opened at the former Ermin’s location.