Nucleus’ Phase I. Big plans, unrealized so far ….

Welcome to the January 28 edition of the top-secret, always confidential Monday Business Briefing.

These are biz tips Insider Louisville staff and contributors have collected during the past few days, a few of which are NOT double-verified as with our daily reporting.

As always, we’ve made multiple calls on these tips, which come from sources who are not merely insiders, but who have direct knowledge of the deals.

The most-talked about developments this weekend still had to do with restaurants and Kentucky Kingdom.

But let’s start out with something important to Louisville’s economic future:

• This week’s scoop is news of big changes coming at Nucleus Innovation Park. Our sources told us two weeks ago that U of L would name a new executive vice president of Research and Innovation. But there seems to have been some confusion. In fact, the person we are told is coming will not replace Dr. William Pierce, Jr., executive vice president for Research and Innovation, but will fill an entirely new position. Pierce is adding an associate vice-president to oversee commercialization efforts – to do a better job of bringing Nucleus, Metacyte and technology transfer efforts together and advance them to the commercialization phase more quickly. Our sources say those efforts have been pretty much at a standstill. Last week, we told you the CEO at MetaCyte Business Lab had departed. We know that Edumetics is in some corner of MetaCyte. What’s not so clear is the status of Signature’s role at Nucleus. Signature Healthcare was supposed to enter into a partnership with U of L to form the International Center for Long Term Care Innovation, which was supposed to occupy 20,000 square feet of the 140,000-square-foot, $20 million Nucleus building at Market and Floyd streets. We’ve always supported the idea of Nucleus. But over the years, we heard from too many insiders that the mission – to bring tech startups to Louisville – was unrealistic. Then, we started hearing that restaurant apps and law firms were tentative tenants. Last week, Commercial Kentucky President E. Phillip Scherer III told us his firm was reclassifying the new Nucleus building as a commercial spec building. Vickie Yates Brown will remain Nucleus CEO, but now reports directly to U of L President James Ramsey, not to Pierce, sources say. We hesitate to use the word “disarray” when describing the Nucleus effort, but we’ll use it until someone proves us wrong.

• Another big scoop for this dreary Monday pertains to rumors of a big, new Louisville local music awards scheduled to debut this year. Our sources say this has been in the works for a while, but got a boost last Friday from Michael Tierney’s IL post asking why local stations don’t play more local music. We understand there are a number of sponsors signed on, with an announcement nigh. Why is this under “business” you’re asking? …. Because music is a huge business, though the business model has changed. A thriving indie music scene in Austin led to the South by Southwest Festival. Now SXSW is a huge annual gathering for creative types from around the United States. So you can see these things have a way of exploding. At this particular moment, Louisville has maybe a dozen bands on the cusp of becoming regional or even national names. Imagine a music festival tied into Idea Festival.

… and the bad old days.

The latest numbers ….

• The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. announced Friday that  Town & Country Bank in Bardstown, Ky. is off the naughty list, terminating the tiny bank’s consent decree after two years.  Honestly, FDIC officials must know something we can’t see in the numbers, because T&C still looks mighty unhealthy. Insider Louisville uses American University’s BankTracker site, which aggregates data from the FDIC and Comptroller of the Currency, to analyze bank stability. BankTracker showed Town & Country Bank skyrocketing to a troubled asset ratio of 61.2 as of June 2010 from 4.6 in December 2008.

So, how are they doing now? Ummmmm, not all that great.

By December of 2010, the bank’s troubled asset ratio had risen to about 72. Now, the latest figures show a slight decrease to 67. FDIC figures show losses decreased to $1.1 million for Q3 2012 from $5.1 million for the same period, 2011. Troubled assets also decreased to $23.4 million from  $32 million over that same period. What’s shocking is to look back to 2009 and note this tiny little bank has seen its assets (loans) decrease to $305 million for the third quarter of 2012 in assets from $472 million back in the fourth quarter of 2009, or 65 percent!

John Birnsteel

• We finally got on Doe Anderson’s news release list. And we promptly got a news release stating that John Birnsteel is back, now as chief operating officer, a position that was apparently vacant. Birnsteel was at Doe-Anderson from 1993 to 1997, when he left to get an MBA from the University of Cambridge. After that, according to the release, he worked at the largest agency networks in the world including WPP and Interpublic Group. Birnsteel most recently worked as the head of strategy for FutureBrand London. Last week, we told you Doe-Anderson just picked up new business from Bluegrass Cellular and Pinnacle Entertainment (among others). The question we have for you this week is, is Doe Anderson President Todd Spencer bringing in talent from mega-firms such as Interpublic, where Brown-Forman is a client, signal an intent to compete for more Fortune 500 business?

• We thought the herd of investors chasing Lynn’s Paradise Cafe would thin a little with time. Hardly. We found out this week two Louisville restaurateurs are interested for a total of at least 10 different groups. We also confirmed through two sources that Lynn Winter is telling suitors she won’t start negotiating with anyone until the end of February. Interesting …..

• The other most-talked-about deal this weekend is Ed Hart and Co.’s next move in acquiring Kentucky Kingdom. People who read our post on the deal behind the announcement sent us their thoughts, which boil down to, “This will be a lot more sophisticated deal than Hart is revealing.” The consensus is this: The state may not have used its bonding capacity to finance the $45 million KK revival, but there will have to be a funding mechanism that involves the government on some level beyond the paltry pledges of support. The question is, can Kentucky Kingdom qualify for federal New Market Tax Credits? The program, which just got extended under the Fiscal Cliff agreement, gives investors a 39 percent federal tax credit on job-creating investments made in an area designated “distressed communities” where the poverty rate is at least 20 percent. Kentucky Kingdom is in an area that has few residents, so the project may not qualify. The U.S. Census data via the New York Times interactive site shows the median household income in the area – Census Tract 11901 – at $31,641. Which suggests that some significant percentage of residents could fall below Federal poverty guidelines. Another possibility could be the creating of a tax increment financing district around the park. Which would include a fairly industrial/commercial area.

• Commercial real estate sources are telling us that JP Morgan Chase may be moving its wholesale loan operation out of the Marion E. Taylor Building at 312 S. Fourth St., but it’s not paying out the leases and giving up the space. Which has everyone wondering if the big Wall Street Bank is bringing in other operations …..

• Another big commercial real estate tip … Texas Roadhouse headquarters on 6040 Dutchman Lane is filled to capacity and the Louisville-based chain of steakhouses is looking for space. Insiders tell us that some top executives share offices.

• There were more big job cuts at Presbyterian Church (USA) headquarters last week. The mainstream church has had a series of staff reductions since 2007.