Welcome to the March 30 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.
What does the massive stock buyback effort at Brown-Forman tell us? For one major ratings agency, the verdict isn’t good. Louisville’s recent job growth is way better than forecasted, says the Fed, and MedTouch’s new move might be a (small) sign of that. Google Glass is still a go despite big changes at the search giant, says one local partner. TARC is upgrading its on-board payment system, The Courier-Journal is trying to build morale, and the Wild and Woolly building is for lease, meaning it’s really over.
Meanwhile, in the private equity world …
Local private equity firm backing NYC luxury condos near new Trade Center tower
File this under intriguing surprise: A local private equity firm is a co-general partner in a Manhattan condo high-rise just a few blocks away from One World Trade Center.
The Pluris Group, founded in 2008 by Underhill Associates manager Colin Underhill, is $3.5 million in on River & Warren, a 28-story tower on the Hudson River in Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan. Pluris is partnered with New York City-based Centurion Real Estate Partners and Five Mile Capital on the project, whose total costs will be in the neighborhood of $365 million (most of which is debt-financed). That includes a $90 million renovation and conversion, from 324 units to 192 luxury condos.
The groups closed on the building at 22 River Terrace in October 2013, and sales launched for the made-over units late last year; they range from $1.475 million to $10 million. The neighborhood is right next to Tribeca and the building, as we said, is a short walk from One World Trade Center as well as the world HQ of Goldman Sachs. It’s also foot distance from a Whole Foods and the NYC public library. Not to mention offering full views of the Statue of Liberty and the iconic NYC skyline.
The deal is one of four for Pluris, which is run by Underhill and Matthew Willinger. The firm typically invests in out-of-market real estate projects; its first is Golf Brook, a Class A community in Orlando. It was also the group behind Westport Village, which it sold in early 2013.
Underhill says River & Warren gives Pluris — which is part of Underhill Associates — access to high-profile developers for future projects, in addition to raising the profile of the firm.
“Part of our investment decision was, we look at capitalizing on strategic partnerships, strategic relationships in markets outside our home market, which is Louisville,” he says. “It will do a lot to help us not only generate good investment opportunities in the future, but work with some great partners to help us generate projects.”
The family-run Underhill Associates is the developer behind Germantown Mill Lofts, the major redo of the former Goss Avenue Antique Mall.
Google Glass still a go, local partner says
Amid speculation that Google will end Glass, its Internet-connected eyewear, after closing the consumer side of the project in January, the CEO of a Louisville-based partner firm says Glass remains a go.
Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal tells IL Glass is “alive and well,” and that the mobile technology firm — which is partnering with Google on new enterprise uses for Glass — is “seeing many inquiries on it” from clients around the country.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Google chairman Eric Schmidt last week saying the Glass program, which the company moved out of its Google X research lab and into a standalone unit, was staying put:
“It is a big and very fundamental platform for Google,” Schmidt said. “We ended the Explorer program and the press conflated this into us canceling the whole project, which isn’t true. Google is about taking risks and there’s nothing about adjusting Glass that suggests we’re ending it.”
Interapt is one of 10 companies that are part of Google’s “Glass at Work” program, which authorizes companies to incorporate the technology for workplace solutions. Interapt is partnering with Yum! Brands and Taco Bell to develop Glass-based training courses for employees.
“The majority of the American and international workforce isn’t driving a desk at work like you and I,” says Aaron Rosenberg, Interapt’s senior VP of business development. “They need to use both their hands while also having access to all sorts of information. Whether that’s a surgeon, a cell tower repairman, a Ford assembly line employee or someone making KFC or Taco Bell food products.”
Schmidt told the WSJ that Glass is a long-term project for the company, which put Tony Fadell in charge of strategy for its next phase. If you haven’t heard of Fadell, chances are you’ve heard something on his crowning creation: The former Apple employee is responsible for the iPod.
In addition to its Glass work for Taco Bell, Interapt is working on Glass-based apps for the medical industry that would grant hands-free, immediate access to information for doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers.