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.

Germantown Mill Lofts starting to lease apartments

Even though the first apartments at Germantown Mill Lofts won’t become available until Feb. 1, the builder and operator Underhill Associates already has several leases executed as well as a long list of applicants.

“They’re interested, and they’ll wait the timeframe that they need to wait in order to get a unit,” said Colin Underhill, principal at Louisville-based Underhill Associates, noting that renters typically don’t start looking to sign leases more than 30 days before they move. “To be having people actually signing commitments to lease, I’ve never seen it.”

In total, Germantown Mill Lofts, located at 1030 Goss Ave., will have 188 units. The first phase of apartments includes 63 units. About 60 more apartments will come online in March and another 60 or so in April. Whatever units remain unfinished after that will be completed by Derby, Underhill said.

Square footage ranges from 540 square feet for a studio up to 2,376 square feet for a two-bedroom unit, and monthly rent rates range from $627 to about $1,650.

The lofts are characterized by their industrial feel, with painted exposed pipes, wood beams, clear-coated brick walls and concrete or original wood flooring.

“We tried to make original construction stick out,” Underhill said.

One unique aspect about Germantown Mill Lofts is that it has 62 floor plans; many were created out of necessity because of how the 130-year-old buildings were constructed.

“You’re re-adapting an old cotton mill into residential, so you have these little nooks and crannies and spaces that we want to use for people to utilize as living space,” Underhill said. “Every building did something different for the cotton mill; therefore, every building has its own unique character, design and layout.”

It will be tricky to keep up with all the different floor plans from a management standpoint, he said, but it provides considerably more than the three to six floor plans that most apartment projects offer. Underhill sees that as a benefit that will allow his business to upsell units and increase the income level of the property.

In addition to amenities such as a pool, outdoor gathering space and fitness center, the Germantown Mill Lofts development will include retail space and a restaurant called Finn’s Southern Kitchen.

The biggest challenge with the project has been getting approvals on many aspects of the historic renovation, but even that has been fairly smooth considering the buildings equal roughly 250,000 square feet, Underhill said.

“We expected to have unexpected things,” he said. “Given the nature of the project, it is historic renovation, and we have to get approvals from the National Park Service to do almost every single thing that we do.”

Underhill Associates could receive up to $4.6 million in historic tax credits from the federal government to help pay for the estimated $23 million project and is required to maintain ownership for five years. However, Underhill said he hopes to own Germantown Mill Lofts for much longer.

“We have been working on this project for a long time,”  he said, “and to finally start to see some of the mess turn into finished product is really gratifying.”

Still, it’s too early to begin celebrating, Underhill said.

“We don’t spend a lot of time enjoying it until we are all the way there.” —Caitlin Bowling

People selling Abraham Lincoln Bridge medallions for a mint

One medallion sold for $76. | Courtesy of Ebay
One medallion sold for $76.

Who would have thought that the commemorative medallions handed out to mark the opening of the Abraham Lincoln Bridge would be worth something? Not me.

But it turns out there’s a market for the medallions, 10,000 of which were handed out the early birds who showed up on Dec. 5 for the “Walk the Bridge” event.

A quick search on Ebay of “Abraham Lincoln medallion” returns a handful of applicable listings. Some have no bids, but one had as many as 18 bids. That one ended up selling for $76.

That’s $76 for something that 10,000 people got for free.

A couple medallions are listed for similar prices, but the highest price I’ve seen thus far is $250 for two medallions. No one’s hit buy yet, but according to Ebay, the item is being monitored by 13 different accounts and has one view an hour.

I asked Mindy Peterson, a spokeswoman for The Ohio River Bridges Project, for a comment, and here’s what she had to say.

We’re glad Walk the Bridge was such a success, and that people enjoyed the day. The medallions are designed to be a momento of a special and historic day. Obviously, we can’t control what people do with their medallions. We’re a bit surprised to see them popping up on Ebay, but not surprised they’re such a popular keepsake. If anything, it shows how much enthusiasm this community has for the project.

Although the item is unique, there are plenty of things I’d rather spend $76 on. —Caitlin Bowling

Greater Louisville Association of Realtors names its top brokers of the year

Left to right: Reed Weinberg, Stephan Gray, E.P. Scherer and Rhonda Karageorge | Photo courtesy of GLAR.
Left to right: Reed Weinberg, Stephan Gray, E.P. Scherer and Rhonda Karageorge | Photo courtesy of GLAR.

The Greater Louisville Association of Realtors has announced the winners of its sixth annual Broker of the Year Awards.

This year, awards were handed out for four different categories — industrial, retail, office and multifamily — and based on the number of transactions and square footage involved in the sale or lease during the 2014 calendar year.

The winners are as follows:

  • Industrial Broker of the Year — Stephan Gray of Commercial Kentucky Inc.
  • Retail Broker of the Year — Rhonda Karageorge of Commonwealth Commercial Real Estate
  • Office Broker of the Year — E.P. Scherer of Commercial Kentucky Inc.
  • Multi-Family Broker of the Year — Reed Weinberg of PRG Commercial Property Advisors

The Greater Louisville Association of Realtors is a membership organization for people in residential and commercial real estate. It currently has more than 4,000 members. —Caitlin Bowling

Papa John’s eliminating antibiotics from its chicken

Papa John’s Buffalo Chicken Pizza is one of many menu items that features chicken. | Courtesy of Business Wire
Papa John’s Buffalo Chicken Pizza is one of many menu items that features chicken. | Courtesy of Business Wire

It’s becoming increasingly popular for restaurants to get rid of unpopular food additives and anything considered unnatural.

Louisville-based Papa John’s International is no exception. The company already has eliminated MSG, trans-fats, meat fillers, BHA, BHT and partially hydrogenated oils from its foods.

Now Papa John’s is nixing antibiotic-laden chicken from its ingredients list. The company in a news release announced plans to eliminate the use of chicken injected with human or animal antibiotics from its menu by summer 2016. The chickens must also be fed a 100 percent vegetarian diet.

“This antibiotics initiative embodies everything our brand stands for,” John Schnatter, founder and CEO of Papa John’s, said in the release. “I started this company…on a promise of ‘Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.’ By serving high-quality chicken products without added human or animal antibiotics, we’re just taking the next step on our journey to always get ‘Better.’” —Caitlin Bowling

Made you look! No new news on Lynn’s Paradise Cafe

Lynn's Paradise Cafe
Lynn’s Paradise Cafe

“Hey guys, the C-J is reporting that Lynn’s may finally get sold,” I said to the newsroom yesterday … stupidly. Because everyone ought to know by now that Lynn Winter is Lucy and we’re all Charlie Brown and the sale of Lynn’s Paradise Cafe is the frigging football.

In fact, Winter even acknowledged her tired refrain of “something’s definitely in the works” for the past three years.

C-J reporter Sheldon Shafer wrote: “Winter acknowledged in a phone interview that ‘things are moving on it. I know I have said that before and things come and go. But things are changing. I can’t say any more, but things are definitely moving forward. In a couple of months (I may be able to talk).'”

In the beginning, IL too fell into the trap of reporting every time Winter poked out her head and declared “things are moving.” But let’s give it a rest, y’all. The woman is still declaring that the property must remain the Lynn’s Paradise “brand” and that she serve as consultant once it is bought.

That dog won’t hunt.

Upon reading Shafer’s story and realizing there’s not a breath of new news since Jere Downs’s story in January, I told the newsroom, “Never mind. False alarm. Same ol’, same ol’.”

I think I might have heard Joe Sonka mutter “sucka” under his breath. –Melissa Chipman

The New Blak supports Dress for Success this month

dressNeed a versatile dress for all your holiday parties or a classic gift for a woman in your life? This is the perfect month for nailing down a little black dress — or in this case, a Little Blak Dress. The New Blak is doing good all December-long by giving you $10 off your Blak Dress purchase AND donating $10 to Dress for Success.

Last month the retailer moved into a storefront on Frankfort Ave. The location is at 2640 Frankfort Ave. They’re open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. You can also shop online and use the code GIVE10 at the checkout. — Melissa Chipman

Construction underway on Westport Road apartments

Recently, a few readers have inquired about the commotion going on along Old Westport Road, specifically between the Portland Christian School’s Eastside Campus and the Islamic School of Louisville.

The project has been reported on several times throughout the year, but we thought it was important to give people some quick facts about it in case they missed previous news reports.

The buildings currently under construction at 8211 Old Westport Road are apartments. Alabama-based Arlington Properties is constructing the complex and will manage it as well.

Altogether, the project includes nine buildings and 224 apartments, as well as a 6,600-square-foot clubhouse with a pool, according to planning documents.

The apartments will range from one to three bedrooms, and each will have a patio or balcony, Business First reported. Other amenities include a yoga studio, a fitness center and sports pub.

To separate the property from those surrounding it, a five-foot tall horse fence will encircle the property.

The complex is yet to be named and is expected to open during the third quarter of next year. —Caitlin Bowling

KFC opening first location in Tibet next year

KFCLouisville-based fried chicken restaurant KFC will move into a new territory next month when it opens its first store in Tibet.

Multiple news sites, including The Wall Street Journal, Xinhua News Agency and Reuters, have reported that a two-story KFC will open in late January in a shopping center in Tibet’s capital Lhasa.

The company already is planning for future expansion in the area, Xinhua reported, and will construct a 4.67-hectare frozen storage area outside the city.

KFC’s parent company Yum! Brands Inc. originally planned to enter the Tibetan market in 2004 but claimed it was not economically feasible. Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama came out in opposition to a KFC opening in Tibet at that time, news sites reported.

The Wall Street Journal hypothesized that KFC may have decided to enter the market now because of rising income levels in urban areas and the growing number of Han Chinese who’ve moved into Tibetan cities. The Han Chinese are China’s ethnic majority.

Since Tibet is controlled by China, KFC operations there likely will be included in the spin-off of Yum! China in 2016. Last week, Yum executives gave further details on how they plan to separate its China division from the rest of the company. —Caitlin Bowling

Heaven Hill celebrates 80 years with special one-day production run

HeavenHillOn Dec. 13, 1935, Heaven Hill Brands filled its very first barrel of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Since then, it’s become the largest family-owned and operated distilled spirits producer — and second largest holder of aging bourbon — in the country. To celebrate 80 years, Heaven Hill produced a special run of bourbon last Saturday, Dec. 12.

The bourbon was unique because it entered the barrels at 107 proof, just like it did in 1935. The 280 barrels were divided up and placed into various rick houses at the distillery in Bardstown, including some in Rick House Y where visitors on tour will be able to see them. The barrels will be emptied and bottled when the master distiller determines they are ready — at least four years from now, if not longer.

“We thought there could be no better way to recognize and commemorate the filling of our first barrel in 1935 than to replicate it as faithfully as possible,” said Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira in a press release. “We still use the same 7-generations-old yeast strain, the same basic mash bill or grain recipe, and the same traditional process as we used when our first barrel was filled prior to World War II. Filling these barrels at our original entry proof makes them a unique memento of our 80th anniversary.”

Back when that first barrel was filled, Heaven Hill employed only a handful of people. Now, their staff includes nearly 700 throughout the country. —Sara Havens

Louisville groups send out holiday amusements 

We’re digging some of the video holiday cards that local organizations have been posting on the web.

Here are staff members of the Kentucky Center for Performing Arts grooving along to Drake’s “Hotline Bling” in their dashing holiday sweaters.

While not explicitly holiday-y, the folks from Via Studio answer your most pressing questions about the staff, like how many bowls of cereal they eat each day. Spoiler alert: Founder Jason Clark really hates cereal. —Melissa Chipman

Brown-Forman makes ‘late delivery’ to WWII pilot

Col. Tom Barr poses with his plane, "Southern Comfort," during WWII. | Courtesy of the Colorado Springs Gazette.
Col. Tom Barr poses with his plane, “Southern Comfort,” during WWII. | Courtesy of the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Louisville-based distiller Brown-Forman, owner of the Southern Comfort brand, made a special delivery Wednesday to a 90-year-old WWII veteran whose plane was named “Southern Comfort.”

Thomas J. Barr, a retired Air Force colonel, had named his B-17 bomber after the spirit hoping the company would send him and his crew a case of SoCo while they were stationed in Europe during the war.

About 70 years later, Barr’s daughter convinced the company in a letter to deliver on the veterans’ expectations. Brown-Forman honored the pilot Wednesday at the National Museum of World War II Aviation, presenting him with a specialty case of Southern Comfort, the company said in a press release.

He also received a model replica of his B-17 bomber, a plaque and an authentic Air Force bomber jacket with an image of his plane on the back.

Twelve of Barr’s family members attended the ceremony. “It was an emotional day for everyone in attendance,” a Brown-Forman spokeswoman said via email.

Barr flew 11 missions in WWII and served again in Vietnam.

Thomas Barr | Courtesy of Brown-Forman.
Thomas Barr | Courtesy of Brown-Forman.

The retired colonel encouraged young audience members to consider joining the military.

“It’s a good ride,” he said. “And you’re not only doing something for yourself, you’re doing something for your country.”

The Colorado Springs Journal Gazette quoted Brown-Forman spokesman Rick Bubenhofer saying that in recognizing Barr, the company was honoring all who served in WWII.

“There’s too few chances left to show our gratitude to this generation,” Bubenhofer said.

According to the National WWII Museum, WWII veterans are dying at a rate of about 492 per day. About 855,000 WWII veterans remain, including nearly 11,000 in Kentucky. —Boris Ladwig