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.

Ad praising Ramsey funded by UofL Foundation vice chair

Oval-Commons-University-of-Louisville

A full-page ad in The Courier-Journal lauding the leadership of University of Louisville President James Ramsey – and blasting his critics on the Board of Trustees – was almost entirely funded by a check from the U of L Foundation board’s vice chair Joyce Hagen, according to an open records request received from the foundation.

The April 5 ad consisted of an open letter praising Ramsey for the success of the university during his tenure and described criticism of him by trustees supporting a vote of no confidence as “unconscionable.” The letter was signed by four board members of the university’s nonprofit foundation – including Hagen – with a footnote at the bottom noting it was paid for “with UofL Foundation funds donated specifically to support President James Ramsey.”

Over two months after IL submitted an open records request asking who donated those funds, how much the ad cost, and how large their pro-Ramsey advertising fund is, the Foundation indicated that Hagen cut a check for $5,800 for the ad, with “the Foundation’s discretionary advertising funds” providing another $82 to cover the full cost of The Courier-Journal ad.

Hagen’s March 26 check was made out to the UofL Foundation, with a memo line indicating “FOR FRIENDS OF UL.” The receipt given to Hagen identified the gift as being dedicated to the “President’s Discretionary Fund.”

The Foundation’s response to the open records request – sent by Kenyatta Martin, an administrative services officer in the president’s office – did not indicate any other pro-Ramsey funds held by the nonprofit. She also noted that another full-page C-J ad prominently featuring Ramsey from the previous week was paid for by the Foundation’s discretionary advertising fund.

The Courier-Journal told IL in April that a full-page ad typically costs $12,918, but Martin’s response indicated that the Foundation has a flat rate of $5,882 for full-page ads with the newspaper.

Ramsey is the president of both the university and the nonprofit foundation – a dual role that is rare among other universities and has drawn criticism from trustees. The Foundation also has given Ramsey multimillion dollar compensation packages in recent years, with an independent consultant hired by trustees last year indicating his total compensation far exceeds that of presidents in other ACC and peer universities.

Two weeks ago, the Board of Trustees’ Finance Committee lacked the votes to pass a budget proposal of the Ramsey administration that would raise tuition by 5 percent. The committee and the full board are expected to tackle the budget issue next week, with several trustees indicating the administration should submit another proposal that does not increase tuition. —Joe Sonka

New restaurant planned along Frankfort Avenue

A restaurant will fill the space behind Nancy's Bagel Grounds. | Courtesy of Google Maps
A restaurant will fill the space behind Nancy’s Bagel Grounds. | Courtesy of Google Maps

A new restaurant is going into the space behind Nancy’s Bagel Grounds.

Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government issued a building permit on June 14 for 2101 Frankfort Ave. The permit indicates 3,325 square feet in “an existing B area” will be renovated for a restaurant. The renovations will cost an estimated $125,000, the permit states.

The space behind Nancy’s Bagel Grounds was formerly occupied by Fabulous Finds, a consignment store that closed last year after 22 years in business. A group called Friends of the Louisville Deaf Oral School created the store and owned the property.

However, the group sold the property in October for $675,000 to a company named Frankfort 2101 LLC.

Louisville attorney James Murphy is listed as the company’s organizer on the Kentucky Secretary of State website, which simply means he was paid to fill out the official paperwork creating the entity. Murphy is not involved in the project but told IL that real estate investor Fred Pizzonia heads Frankfort 2101 LLC.

IL was able to reach one of Pizzonia’s employees who said the restaurant will be called The Manhattan Project. He was unable to provide any more details and said that Pizzonia is currently out of the country on vacation.

Regular readers may remember Pizzonia’s name from another Louisville restaurant project Ciao Italian Restaurant, which is currently under construction at 1201 Payne St. in the former Baxter Station Bar and Grill. —Caitlin Bowling

Feds fine Amazon over drain cleaner spill that injured UPS workers

A UPS Airbus A300-600RF Freighter on approach to Des Moines International Airport.
A UPS Airbus A300-600RF Freighter on approach to Des Moines International Airport.

A federal agency has alleged that Amazon violated hazardous materials rules when it improperly packaged corrosive drain cleaner that was shipped from Louisville and injured nine UPS employees.

The Federal Aviation Administration has proposed that Amazon be fined $350,000.

The agency said in a news release that Amazon improperly packaged a 1-gallon container of “Amazing! LIQUID FIRE,” which UPS transported by air on Oct. 14, 2014, from Louisville to Boulder, Colo.

Some of the drain cleaner leaked through its box, and “nine UPS employees who came into contact with the box reported feeling a burning sensation and were treated with a chemical wash,” the agency said.

“The shipment was not properly packaged, was not accompanied by a Shipper’s Declaration for Dangerous Goods and was not properly marked or labeled to indicate the hazardous nature of its contents,” the FAA said. “Furthermore … Amazon failed to provide emergency response information with the package, and Amazon employees who handled the package had not received required hazardous materials training.”

The FAA also said Amazon “has a history” of such violations: “From February 2013 to September 2015 alone, Amazon was found to have violated the Hazardous Materials Regulations 24 other times.”

Amazon has 30 days to respond to the FAA’s enforcement letter.

The company told IL via email that it takes the safety of its air cargo delivery partners seriously: “We ship tens of millions of products every day and have developed sophisticated technologies to detect potential shipping hazards and use any defects as an opportunity for continuous improvement. We will continue to partner with the FAA in this area.” —Boris Ladwig

Mexican restaurant taking over America. The Diner. space

El Nopal logoThere’s a hubbub at 962 Baxter Ave.

According to a Highlands resident, workers were renovating the space while a liquor license application hung in the window Thursday afternoon. A quick search of Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government public records found an electrical permit for a new El Nopal Restaurant.

The storefront sits along a well-traversed section of the Highlands and formerly housed America. The Diner., a 24-hour diner concept created by restaurateur Dustin Staggers. The restaurant closed in March because of lower-than-expected profits.

IL reached out to property owner Gary Mathias, but the number listed for him was disconnected. IL also has reached out to Enrique Roman, president of El Nopal Mexican Restaurants, but did not hear back before press time.

El Nopal is well known locally. It has 18 locations in Louisville and nine in Southern Indiana. —Caitlin Bowling

21c opens Oklahoma City property; next up is Nashville

21c Oklahoma City features a misting tree out front. | Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels
21c Oklahoma City features a misting tree out front. | Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels

What this country needs is more colorful plastic penguins! Louisville-based 21c Museum Hotel is spreading its love and unique hotel-meets-contemporary-art-museum concept around the country, opening a new location, its sixth, in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The property took over an old Ford Motor Co. Assembly Plant, what they call “adaptive reuse,” and includes 14,000 square feet of gallery space, a 135-room boutique hotel and an upscale restaurant called Mary Eddy’s Kitchen & Lounge.

“When we opened the first 21c in Louisville 10 years ago, we wanted to help revitalize a once vibrant area on West Main Street,” said Steve Wilson, founder and CEO of 21c, in a press release. “We saw a similar opportunity here in OKC, on the western edge of downtown and, to be a cultural catalyst and agent of forward-thinking change on Main Street, in an area with a rich, storied past.”

The Ford Assembly Plant became the inspiration for the gallery’s four site-specific artworks, including a steel tree located in front of the hotel that sprays mist, and a flowing river of color panels that tell time. The design team sought to create a contemporary interpretation of the building’s industrial heritage by integrating elements of the automotive and assembly plant legacy.

The hotel took over an old Ford Motor Assembly Plant in Oklahoma City. | Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels
The hotel took over an old Ford Motor Assembly Plant in OKC. | Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels

Next up for 21c is a hotel/museum in Nashville, slated to open in early 2017, followed by properties in Kansas City, Mo., and Indianapolis. If you’re curious, the penguins are purple in Oklahoma City. —Sara Havens

Two businesses in ButcherBlock set opening dates

The home goods store is part of a nine building development in Butchertown. | Courtesy of Stag + Doe
The home goods store is part of a nine building development in Butchertown. | Courtesy of Stag + Doe

The opening of Stag + Doe is just a week away.

The home goods store at 1013 E. Main St. was the first business to be named as part of developer Andy Blieden’s ButcherBlock project in Butchertown, and now, it will be the first of six businesses to open in the small but potentially impactful development. Stag + Doe will open June 25.

Interior designers Jeff McAfee and Julie Meehan are opening Stag + Doe, which will complement their existing interior design company Studio Threesixty. The firm will have offices in the back of the renovated shotgun.

Stag + Doe will offer a wide variety of home decor and goods at a range of prices.

“While there are some great furniture stores in Louisville, they don’t work for everyone’s budget.” McAfee said in a press release. “We wanted to expand the offering for modern furniture and décor while being mindful of the price point.”

Stag + Doe will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will serve cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and “thoughtful consumables” from Erin Caricofe, who is opening a business called FoodCraft in ButcherBlock.

FoodCraft will stock a mixture of food items and arts and crafts made by small-time vendors. “I am one small business supporting a lot of other small businesses,” Caricofe told IL last year.

In addition to the June 25 soft opening, FoodCraft will host its own grand opening with food and door prizes on July 7. More details will be posted on FoodCraft’s Facebook page closer to the date.

Eventually, Butcherblock also will include a photography studio, a Vietnamese restaurant, a doughnut shop and possibly a coffee shop. —Caitlin Bowling

Electric vehicle charging station unveiled in the Highlands

Courtesy of Evolve KY
Courtesy of Evolve KY

Drivers of electric vehicles have gained another Louisville charging station, this one at The Highland Green Building, 1401 Bardstown Road.

The station is the third launched by Evolve KY, a group of local EV enthusiasts who want to promote and support the use of electric vehicles.

The group’s president, Stuart Ungar, told IL via email that the charging stations work with all electric vehicle brands, including Tesla.

Through its Adopt a Charger program, Evolve KY identifies potential charging sites, determines cost and then finds funding from businesses, nonprofits and individuals. The group also has placed chargers in NuLu and Portland.

Evolve KY said in a press release that the Highland Green Building was ideal, as it already promotes green living, with solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling, and a honey bee colony.

“The location has come full circle,” the group said, “as the spot’s previous use was a gas station.”

Evolve KY targets primarily locations such as shopping areas and parks, where drivers can charge their vehicles while engaging in activities that last 45 minutes or more.

Those interested in sponsoring a station can contact Evolve KY at 502-644-1719 or email and get more information on the group’s Facebook page. —Boris Ladwig

GE Appliances to close unprofitable Indiana refrigerator plant

GE side-by-side
A 20-cubic-foot, side-by-side GE refrigerator retails for $1,700.

GE Appliances plans to close a refrigerator plant in Bloomington, Ind., and eliminate 329 jobs in response to declining demand and the plant’s “unsustainable” multimillion-dollar losses.

The company said in a press release that its plan is subject to company union negotiations, which are slated to begin this week. About 300 hourly workers are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2249.

GE said volume at the plant has fallen 76 percent since 2008, and it was scheduled to run only 22 weeks this year.

“The unfortunate reality that we’ve lived with for a very long time is that fewer consumers want to buy the products we make here,” said Frank Scheffel, general manager of operations.

GE said it had worked to find ways to turn around the plant’s performance, and that keeping it open since 2008 allowed 450 employees to reach retirement.

The union could not be reached for comment.

Should the closing proceed, the company plans to work with local and state agencies to help employees find other jobs.

GE this month completed the sale of its appliances division to China-based Qingdao Haier. The division employs 12,000, including about 6,000 at GE Appliance Park in Louisville, where the division is based. —Boris Ladwig

Showroom featuring reclaimed, live-edge wood opening Saturday

Live-edge wood furniture like this bench shows off the natural curves of the wood. | Courtesy of Southern Vintage
Live-edge wood furniture like this bench shows off the natural curves of the wood. | Courtesy of Southern Vintage

Flooring and Granite Designs, a third-generation Louisville business, is adding a new accent to its existing operations.

The company will premiere a new showroom called Southern Vintage at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 18, at its headquarters at 10515 Fischer Park Drive near Springhurst Towne Center. John Allgeier owns both Flooring and Granite Designs and Southern Vintage.

Southern Vintage will stock furniture made from reclaimed wood from barns, barrels, historic buildings and churches. It also will offer wood wall tiles and granite for customers who like refined and rustic styles, according to a news release.

To celebrate its opening, a 7-foot, live-edge walnut table valued at $8,500 will be up for auction in the showroom. Proceeds will benefit The Fuller Center for Housing of Louisville, a faith-based nonprofit that builds homes for people in need. The winner will be announced Saturday after an 11 a.m. ribbon cutting, according to the release. —Caitlin Bowling

Martinez family hiring for their seventh Louisville restaurant

Ole LogoIt looks like Red Barn Kitchen will open before the end of the summer.

Olé Restaurant Group, the parent company under which the Martinez family runs six — soon to be seven — eateries, is looking to hire 25 to 45 people for full- and part-time positions at Red Barn Kitchen. The new restaurant is a chef-driven Southern and barbecue concept located in the former Joe’s Older Than Dirt, 8131 New La Grange Road.

There are job openings for bartenders, servers, hosts, dishwashers and line cooks. Restaurant management will be available from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 20-22 at Mussel & Burger Bar, 9200 Taylorsville Road. Applicants should be prepared to be interviewed.

“We’re excited to grow our team at all of our eateries,” Olé Restaurant Group co-owner and director of operations Rick Moir said in a press release. “We are seeking individuals whose energy and talents match our vision of great quality and service.”

Olé Restaurant Group owns two Mussel & Burger Bar locations, Artesano Vino Tapas Y Mas, Guaca Mole Cocina Mexicana, Mercato Italiano and El Taco Luchador. —Caitlin Bowling

Artist Rebecca Norton wins the 2016 Mary Alice Hadley Prize for Visual Art

Rebecca Norton | Courtesy of Community Foundation of Louisville
Rebecca Norton | Courtesy of Community Foundation of Louisville

The Community Foundation of Louisville and Louisville Visual Art presented local painter and sculptor Rebecca Norton with the fourth annual Mary Alice Hadley Prize for Visual Art. Norton will use the $5,000 award to help enhance her career, and she already knows how she’s going to use it.

The artist plans to pursue a mentorship in digital modeling and fabrication techniques at the Digital Fabrication Residency in Easton, Md., and sketch gravity hills in Burkittsville, Md., and New Paris, Penn. Gravity hills, for those not in the know (myself included), are roadside attractions where objects appear to roll uphill. OK, gotcha, I think. Norton also will spend some time with fellow cohorts at an artist’s retreat in Bedford, Penn.

More than 40 artists applied for the award, and a panel of arts professionals selected Norton for her vision, body of work and the innovation of her project. —Sara Havens