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.

Galt House court documents elicit worries among Humana employees

Humana HQCourt documents filed in the Galt House dispute indicate Humana has not renewed the leases for its offices at Waterfront Plaza, which has caused some concern among the insurer’s employees.

Two daughters of the late Al J. Schneider last month asked a Jefferson County judge to issue a restraining order preventing the sale or attempted sale of the Galt House Hotel, One Waterfront Plaza and any other assets owned by the Alton John Schneider Restated Revocable Trust.

Christe Coe and Nancy O’Hearn wrote in court filings that “the cash flow of the Hotel provides the majority of the Company’s income, the loss of which may endanger the other assets of the Company. The brief remaining terms of the Humana leases (which have not been renewed), and the immature status of the Kentucky Kingdom and Embassy Suites Investments, further increases the risk to the Company’s cash flow position.”

An anonymous source who identified him/herself as a Humana employee told IL via email that the documents, specifically the reference to Humana not having renewed its leases, made her/him “suspicious.”

“This letter clearly says Humana is not renewing their leases for the Waterfront Plaza space,” the email read. “They have many many floors of people there.”

Humana told IL that it rents about 500,000 square feet in Waterfront Plaza and employs about 2,000 there. In total, the company employs about 12,000 in Louisville.

While the company said it routinely reviews the status of its leased properties, it would not provide details about when the Waterfront Plaza leases expire or whether the company plans to renew them.

“Managing our lease commitments at Waterfront Plaza is part of (an) internal routine and part of normal business operations,” a spokeswoman told IL via email. “As we continue to evaluate our portfolio, we will negotiate our future space needs based on the interest of Humana.”

Humana employees already are facing some uncertainty because of the proposed acquisition by Aetna. The Hartford, Conn.-based insurer wants to buy Humana for $37 billion. Both companies have said they expect the deal to be completed this year, though federal antitrust regulators have yet to weigh in.

Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini in January allayed some Humana employees’ fears about the acquisition’s impact on Louisville when he said Aetna has made a commitment to only one location, and that’s Louisville.

The fact that Bertolini has not made a commitment to Hartford also has folks in Connecticut worried, especially in light of the recently announced move of corporate giant General Electric, which is leaving Connecticut for Massachusetts. Boris Ladwig

New Walmart Supercenter under construction along Outer Loop

A Walmart is returning to Outer Loop. | IL File Photo
A Walmart is returning to Outer Loop. | IL File Photo

A former Walmart along Outer Loop is becoming, you guessed it, a Walmart.

We tracked down the story after an IL reader emailed us to see if we knew what was happening at the site.

The company is building a new 151,000-square-foot Walmart Supercenter on the rubble of a former Walmart at 4840 Outer Loop across from Jefferson Mall. The store originally closed “for business reasons,” according to Anne Hatfield, director of communications for Walmart’s public affairs and government relations division.

While the comment is about as vague as it gets, the Outer Loop Walmart probably underperformed in the past, and one can safely reason that the recent development of the 230,000-square-foot shopping center Jefferson Commons and other new stores had something to do with the retail giant’s return.

The Walmart Supercenter will include a pharmacy, vision center, money center, photo center, bakery, full-service deli, organic food section, as well as a full slate of general merchandise such as apparel, sporting goods, electronics and beauty products. The store also will offer online grocery ordering and pickup, according to Hatfield.

The store will employ around 300 people and pay an average hourly wage of $14.05 for full-time employees. Workers also receive 10 percent off Walmart purchases, the opportunity for cash bonuses, a 401(k) retirement plan, and education and health benefits.

Notably, in between housing a Walmart, the property was the site of the unorthodox New Vision Ministry Center, a church whose pastor is now being sued. —Caitlin Bowling

Senate Bill 11 goes to Bevin, would boost breweries, distilleries

HB 11 would make it legal to consume alcohol on these bikes. | Courtesy of Thirsty Pedaler
Senate Bill 11 would make it legal to consume alcohol on “party bikes.” | Courtesy of Thirsty Pedaler

After passing the House this week, Senate Bill 11, designed in part to help boost growth of distilleries and breweries in Kentucky, now heads to Gov. Matt Bevin’s desk to be signed into law.

Under the new law, distilleries would be able to not only sell drinks by the glass but also sell more bottled product to consumers, as well as increase sample sizes at tasting rooms. The new law would also allow breweries to pour and sell their beer at festivals, and raises annual barrel production limits from 25,000 to 50,000.

“Our legendary distilleries and emerging craft producers are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to increase bourbon production and expand their Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences …” said Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, in a prepared statement. “Senate Bill 11 will escalate those efforts and level the playing field with our partners in the beer and wine industry.”

Kentucky Guild of Brewers director John King said the new law would give small breweries a chance to better showcase their brand and products, while also paving the way for production breweries as the industry grows in the state. Louisville’s Against the Grain opened a production brewery last year, while Lexington’s West Sixth Brewing and Country Boy Brewing are planning production breweries.

Pouring at festivals also means direct profits rather than being forced to send kegs of beer through distributors. Meanwhile, previously a brewery producing more than 25,000 barrels annually would not legally be able to operate a public taproom.

Essentially what this does for both distilleries and breweries, King said, is put them on level playing ground with wineries, which already have legally been able to sell at festivals and in tasting rooms and could sell wine by the case. Before, distilleries could sell no more than four 750 ml bottles to customers and can now sell six.

In addition to selling and pouring their own beer at festivals, brewers would will no longer have to obtain a temporary license to sell beer at festivals, further incentivizing participation and increasing profit.

The law also would allow drinking on so-called “party bikes” like the Thirsty Pedaler; allow bed and breakfasts to sell liquor by the drink; allow brewers, distillers and vintners to taste their own products for quality control; and more. —Kevin Gibson

Mayor Fischer named a “Jedi Master” of Twitter

Of course there was that time when Twitter was all a-twitter about the fact that the Mayor seemed to be Tweeting from the potty.
Of course there was that time when Twitter was all a-twitter about the fact that the Mayor seemed to be Tweeting from the potty.

New York-based DCI, “the leader in economic development and travel marketing,” released a list of the “Tweet Elite” on their blog this week. The “Tweet Elite” are the mayors who are “Jedi Masters” when it comes to communicating via Twitter. Our fair mayor, Greg Fischer, tied for No. 11 on the list.

According to the blog, “We looked at the mayors of the 250 largest cities in America. We ranked them in five important categories of Twitter usage (audience, frequency of tweets, responsiveness, engagement and influence). We then developed a list the top 25 mayors in America who understand how to communicate in 140 characters or less.”

The list was inspired by Donald Trump’s aggressive Twitter use and how his Tweets have played out in the media.

Congrats Mayor Fischer! —Melissa Chipman

21c featured in Conde Nast Traveler as next big boutique artsy hotel chain

Conde Nast Traveler just posted “Move Over, Ace Hotels: 21c Is The New Artsy ‘It’ Spot” featuring an interview with owners Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown. Ace Hotels are artsy boutique hotels like 21c in cities like New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles.

The article discusses the one-way mirror in the men’s restroom in the Louisville hotel (it was Wilson’s idea), the couple’s divergent tastes in art, and the decision to feature only contemporary art.

Wilson says he’s most proud of showing the gold David on Main Street. “The first week we put that up, there was a letter to the editor from a woman who was incensed and said she wouldn’t ever be able to bring her 12-year-old daughter downtown again,” said Wilson. He added that the same day a woman made a reservation at Proof and asked to be seated where she could have the best view of his “package.”

Brown said, “We found that most communities aren’t as conservative as they think.”

Author Andrew Park calls Wilson and Brown “Louisville’s most sorely overlooked power couple,” which is a little strange.

There will be more 21cs next year in Nashville, Kansas City and Oklahoma City. —Melissa Chipman

Urban Design Studio and Louisville Downtown Partnership can’t clone Patrick Piuma, so they’ll share

Patrick Piuma | Photo courtesy LDP
Patrick Piuma | Photo courtesy LDP

Patrick Piuma is such a wildly popular urban planner that two institutions have decided to share him. Louisville Downtown Partnership and the University of Louisville’s Urban Design Studio have created a partnership to share in Piuma’s talents.

Piuma will now serve as planning director at the LDP, managing the everyday community development and strategic planning projects for downtown. He also will continue to serve as director of the Urban Design Studio.

It must be nice to be in such demand.

“Patrick brings a layer of urban planning and design expertise to our organization that will enhance LDP’s ability to strategically consider how these disciplines relate to the larger urban and social context of Downtown development,” said Rebecca Matheny, LDP’s executive director.

As a founder of City Collaborative — the community group that brought you Resurfaced and the Louisville Love App — Piuma is no stranger to working with LDP.

Piuma was a Business First “40 Under 40” honoree, is a Leadership Louisville Bingham Fellow, and received an Acorn Award for Green Leadership presented by the Green Building.

So, Patrick… when can we talk about the next ReSurfaced? —Melissa Chipman

Louisville businesses want to fly direct and will pay more

Louisville
Louisville

In February, Greater Louisville Inc.’s Economic Development team — on behalf of the Regional Air Coalition — surveyed 1,300 people on their travel needs. Responders came from 313 business, and 92 percent said they travel for business.

GLI looked at the cities within a two-hour flight that are not served by nonstop flights. Responders’ most-desired cities were New Orleans, Kansas City, Raleigh, Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

“The work of the RAC is critical as we identify gaps in air service destinations,” Deana Epperly Karem, GLI’s VP of Regional Growth, said in a news release. “Our local companies have suggested opportunities for us to consider, and we continue to identify other cities that would support business attraction prospects.”

Almost half of the responders said they would pay a higher fare for those destinations, and 70 percent said they would be willing to let employees fly nonstop for work if it was available, even if the fares were higher. —Melissa Chipman

East End bridge construction hits milestone

Here is what the bridge will look like when complete. | Courtesy of Ky Transportation Cabinet
Here is what the bridge will look like when complete. | Courtesy of Ky Transportation Cabinet

The unnamed East End bridge is on track to open to traffic in late 2016.

Construction is 80 percent complete, according to an update from the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

The bridge’s two towers have reached their maximum height of 300 feet above the Ohio River, and by mid-2016, workers will install more than 100 cable-stays along the East End bridge.

Construction workers are preparing the precast concrete deck panels that will make up the bridge road.

By mid-2016, the ramp from Gene Snyder Freeway northbound to Brownsboro Road will open and workers will finish the last layer of concrete in the tunnel that is part of the approach to the new bridge on the Kentucky side. —Caitlin Bowling

PharMerica announces annual meeting details

PharMericaPharMerica will hold its 2016 annual shareholder meeting in Louisville on June 17. The company said it would provide further details in its proxy statement.

Shareholders of record as of April 22 are entitled to vote at the meeting.

The Louisville-based pharmacy services provider in February had announced that fourth-quarter earnings increased more than five-fold on essentially flat revenues, thanks to lower expenses, income taxes and litigation charges. Boris Ladwig

Heroes Comics and Gaming celebrates official grand opening this weekend

Heroes Comics and Gaming | Photo by Melissa Chipman
Heroes Comics and Gaming | Photo by Melissa Chipman

In early March, Insider got a sneak peek at a new comics and gaming store opening on Baxter Avenue, just across the street from Baxter Jack’s. Heroes Comics and Gaming, owned by Steve Conley and Kevin Stich, has been open for a few weeks now, so we swung by one night this week to check it out.

Still a lot of work to be done filling up some of the shelves, but Conley said new merch is coming in every day. I personally liberated the store of Little Golden Books versions of the original Star Wars trilogy (no crawling into Tauntauns or losing Luke’s hand in the kiddie version) and a graphic novel about Area 51 that turned out to have terrible reviews.

The grand opening party is on Saturday, April 2, and there will be crafts, candy, free comics for the kids, and a costume contest. There also will be door prizes and, of course, a cake. Stich said the costume contest hasn’t gained much traction — c’mon Louisville, get your cosplay on! They’re open noon- 2 a.m. at 361 Baxter Ave. —Melissa Chipman

 

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Caitlin Bowling
Louisville native Caitlin Bowling has covered the local restaurant and retail scene since 2014. After graduating from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, Caitlin got her start at a newspaper in the mountains of North Carolina where she won multiple state awards for her reporting. Since returning to Louisville, she’s written for Business First and Insider Louisville, winning awards for health and business reporting and becoming a go-to source for business news. In addition to restaurants and retail business, Caitlin covers real estate, economic development and tourism. Email Caitlin at [email protected]