Welcome to the Jan. 26 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.

This week, real estate, restaurants and retail are hot, and a local energy company is not. The Ohio River Bridges Project is ahead of schedule, which means good things for drivers — and big dollars for the contractor putting pillars in the river. And after six years of recession, local homebuilders are ready to put more shovels in the ground. But first, the South End gets a taste of downtown living…

Indy developer’s luxury apartments come online in the South End 

Apex on Preston

Apex on Preston

Indianapolis developers clearly see something special in Louisville. In last week’s Closing Bell, we broke the story about Indy-based Milhaus Ventures’ purchase of and plans for the abandoned Winn-Dixie site near Fourth and Oak streets. It’s the second big infill project for Milhaus in Louisville, next to its $10.8 million project on Frankfort Avenue.

But not all tony, urban-condo living happens downtown. Apex on Preston, the first foray into our Commonwealth from Indy developer Cityscape Residential, is online and leasing as of last week. The $30-$40 million multifamily development includes 312 units and is situated on the Preston retail corridor near the Commerce Crossings Business Park.

Cityscape has touted Apex as the first of its kind in the area. From the Cityscape:

Residents can enjoy one, two or three bedroom units with interior finishes such as stainless steel appliances, granite counters and vanities, washers and dryers in each unit, designer lighting and plumbing fixtures, wine refrigeration storage, spa garden tubs, wood-like flooring, multi-tone carpet and crown molding. Shared community amenities include a resort-style pool with a grilling cabana, commercial quality fitness center with state-of-the-art cardio and weight equipment, business center, club room and resident lounge, and professional management.

Last fall, Cityscape announced it had raised $82 million of joint-venture financing for Apex and other projects. We’re thinking some of that will go toward the firm’s other announced Louisville development, Axis on Lexington. Just outside NuLu on a 9-acre plot across from Distillery Commons, the complex is planned at 300 units — bringing Cityscape’s total unit investment in Louisville to 612. That’s huge.

Rendering of the proposed Axis on Lexington

Rendering of the proposed Axis on Lexington

We’re told to expect an announcement about Axis sometime next month, and we’re guessing it’ll be a groundbreaking. With the opening of Apex on Preston, confidence in the developer’s game has shot up considerably.

Cityscape is banking on a huge demand for housing in the NuLu/Clifton area, and they’re not alone. More than 1,000 new units have either opened or are scheduled to come online in 2015 in those neighborhoods.

It’s good to be the king: Ohio River Bridges Project edition 

A rendering of the downtown crossing

A rendering of the downtown crossing

If you drive downtown, live downtown, walk around downtown, or are inclined to do any of those things, you were probably pumped at Gov. Steve Beshear’s announcement on Friday that the Ohio River Bridges Project’s downtown crossing — which includes the massive, vertigo-inducing redo of Spaghetti Junction — is scheduled to open three months ahead of time, in January 2016.

You’re not alone. Turns out it’s a boon for Chicago-based bridges project contractor Walsh Construction, too. 

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is speeding up the schedule so contractor Walsh can put a new floor system on the Kennedy Bridge, a $22 million addition that will be covered with contingency funds already included in the project’s $2.3 billion budget. An inspection last year revealed the 51-year-old bridge was in need of more repairs than originally planned in the project. 

When the new downtown bridge opens, northbound and southbound traffic will be moved there while the Kennedy rehab is ongoing. Both the downtown and East End spans are more than 50 percent complete, project managers said. And no, you won’t be hit with a toll until all of it is open.

And if you’re wondering why a contractor might want to finish early — beyond saving on labor costs — here’s your answer. The contract with Walsh provides incentives of $40,000 per day for finishing the entire project — not just the downtown span — before Dec. 9, 2016. The incentives are capped at $12 million — or 300 days early, which isn’t happening — and require the “substantial completion” of both spans plus the new Spaghetti Junction (maybe we should start calling it Tagliatelle Junction).

So the new schedule actually provides a sort of double incentive for Walsh, which will earn an extra $22 million for the Kennedy work plus a possible $40,000 per day if bridges construction wraps by early next December. Not a bad deal, that.

Officials report that the project remains on schedule, with the East End crossing slated to open at the end of October next year. If contractors work past the Dec. 9, 2016, completion date, they’re tabbed $80,000 per day for the tardiness.