Welcome to the April 20 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.
There’s a lot of ground to cover this week, from a new pizzeria in Old Louisville to the deepening anxieties about the planned two-year closure of the downtown convention center. GLI is planning its first visit to D.C. in six years, while Kroger gets targeted for its relaxed open carry rules. And in the we-learn-something-new-every-day category, we’ve got the story behind the new steam generators at LG&E’s new natural gas plant.
But first, there’s more big real estate news downtown …
Starks buyer eyes potential new project at Republic Building
The planned $80 million-plus redevelopment of the Starks Building may have already generated its first spinoff.
The Florida-based company that recently announced a major redevelopment of the Starks Building is also eyeing a possible redevelopment of the nearby Republic Building, Steven Michael, a principal at Hudson Holdings, confirmed to IL on Friday. He wasn’t ready to disclose details, saying only that the building at Fifth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard could serve as a companion to the Starks, which is one block east.
The Republic, built in 1912, went on the market in May and is listed at $3.45 million. It’s owned by Blue Venterra LLC, a group that includes Blue Equity principal Jonathan Blue, real estate broker Gant Hill, and businessman Austin Musselman. The building, which is more than 62,000 square feet, is mostly Class B office space with a restaurant — the Manhattan Grill — on street level.
Blue wouldn’t comment to IL; he doesn’t discuss deals before they’re closed.
The building is in a prime spot for a higher-end mixed-use development along the lines of what Hudson is planning at the Starks, which Michael also detailed to IL on Friday. That redevelopment will include retail and office space, as well as two additional restaurants (they’ll keep the street-level Eddie Merlot’s), one of which will be at the penthouse/roof level. It will have 200 hotel rooms operated by Hudson and a “very high-end flag,” although Michael wouldn’t say who. The company also is converting some of the building to 100 hotel-style apartments.
He said the strong migration trends from suburban neighborhoods to Louisville’s urban core helped make the city attractive for investment.
“Louisville’s a great city,” he said. “All the components are there — great convention market, a lot of arts and culture, great restaurant and entertainment community.”
Michael also said there would be a full-service health club in the basement. “We want the Starks to be a public building,” he said.
About 80 percent of Hudson’s projects are adaptive reuse of buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, Michael said. The Starks redo will follow historic preservation guidelines so the company can qualify for state tax credits, he said. Asked whether the company also would seek local credits, he said it was too early to say.
We also asked Michael whether he thought downtown was becoming saturated with new hotels. More than 1,000 rooms are scheduled to come online in the next couple years, and Hudson isn’t the only developer with its eye on more. He said Louisville is primed for rapid new growth and that adding capacity would help lead to more interest and a greater need, as other parts of the core’s economy continue to expand.
“You’ve got great up-and-coming areas like Whiskey Row and NuLu,” he said. “The bourbon culture is great for tourism, and I think that’s going to grow.”
New Cane Run steam generators designed in Louisville
IL recently wrote about how new natural gas-powered steam generators at LG&E’s Cane Run plant are going through their final rounds of testing before the plant goes live in late May. After our article ran, a reader asked us why we didn’t write about how these new steam generators were designed in Louisville.
The quick answer: We didn’t know. So the reader who flagged us, Kelly Flannery, filled us in. After all, Flannery is director of design engineering at Vogt Power International, and all design and fabrication drawings are his responsibility.
“I just sometimes get disappointed when I don’t see the recognition that our hardworking company rightly deserves,” he wrote in an email. Vogt is based in Louisville.
Flannery added that the steam generators are some of the largest pieces of equipment in the new plant and were designed right here in River City. He added that Vogt Power International is one of the world’s largest suppliers of Heat Recovery Steam Generators (HRSG).
“In fact, in 2014, I think they sold more than any other supplier in the world,” he said. “All right here in little old Louisville.”
Vogt is a company with deep Louisville roots. The name goes all the way back to 1880, when Henry Vogt created the Henry Vogt Machine Co., which entered the boiler business in 1902, providing a heat source for a machine the company’s history calls an “ammonia absorption refrigeration machine.” That’s known today as an ice machine.
The Henry Vogt Machine Co. filed for bankruptcy in 2012, but the Vogt name lives on in the Vogt Awards, which are given to promising Louisville-area startups. They are named in honor of Henry Vogt Heuser, Sr., who ran the Henry Vogt Machine Co. for 28 years as president and was a descendant of the original Henry Vogt.