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.

Southern Indiana housing stock not keeping pace with demand

When Glenda Gasparine moved to the region two years ago from West Virginia, she couldn’t find the right home. For a year, she and her husband rented.

“We finally just kind of settled,” said Gasparine, who now lives in the Covered Bridge subdivision in Sellersburg, Ind. “Southern Indiana, it is just booming here.”

These graphs show Southern Indiana home sales statistics from 2015. | Courtesy of the Southern Indiana Realtor Association

These graphs show Southern Indiana home sales statistics from 2015. | Courtesy of the Southern Indiana Realtor Association

Gasparine is president and CEO of the Southern Indiana Realtor Association. And in her two years in Southern Indiana, she’s seen the average market value of homes rise and the average days homes stay on the market decline.

Her conclusion: “We don’t have enough inventory here.”

In September, homes for sale in Southern Indiana stayed on the market for an average of 92 days, “which is very good,” Gasparine said.

During the same month last year, homes stayed on the market an average of 105 days, according to data from the Southern Indiana Realtor Association. Those numbers weren’t just lower in September but every month this year except April and August when the averages were roughly on par with the previous year.

During the first nine months of 2014, there were 2,628 homes sold in Southern Indiana. During the first nine months of this year, 2,744 homes were sold, a 4.4 percent increase.

Business has been booming for Schuler Bauer Real Estate Services. So far this year, the company has completed around $35 million in home sales in Southern Indiana.

“We’ve almost doubled our business this year,” he said.

Many Southern Indiana leaders and developers are expecting a large influx of new residents after the East End Bridge opens and as the 6,000-acre River River Commerce Center continues to fill out with more companies.

“When this bridge opens up, everything changes,” said Denis Frankenberger, a real estate developer in Charlestown, Ind. “(The area) is going to explode.”

The bridge will provide easier access from Louisville’s East End to Clark County where property is cheaper. Many in Southern Indiana believe it will help draw more businesses to River Ridge, and their employees are likely to follow.

“Our developers are expecting an influx of new home construction,” said Charlie Smith, executive officer for the Building & Development Association of Southern Indiana. But “there is a big question mark on how fast things are going to develop.”

The East End Bridge is expected to open in late 2016, and right now it’s unclear if the Southern Indiana housing market will be able to keep up with demand.

Clark County is years behind on infrastructure development, Smith said, and many shovel-ready sites already have been developed. Now developers are working to get properties in Clark County ready for contractors to build.

However, there are some new homes coming online.

For example, Gasparine’s subdivision, Covered Bridge, recently added a new section called Woods of Covered Bridge with about 130 lots up for grabs. Glenwood Springs subdivision in New Albany also has about 150 lots for sale, said Stiller of Schuler Bauer.

Those lots and homes go for $300,000 or more, Stiller said, adding there also is a good amount of housing stock in Southern Indiana for people searching for homes below $150,000.

But people are still struggling to find the homes they want, he said.

Employees with Schuler Bauer have been cold calling homeowners in search of people who might be on the fence about selling their homes, particularly those in the $150,000 to $250,000 range.

Homes in that range have been “a rarity,” Stiller said. “I think there is definitely a lot of pent-up demand.” —Caitlin Bowling

‘The Norton Commons of Indiana’ coming to Charlestown?

Developer Denis Frankenberger just received unanimous approval from the Charlestown City Council for a new 8.59-acre, 56-home pocket neighborhood, which he hopes will help transform Charlestown Landing into the Norton Commons of Indiana.

Charlestown Landing is a 77.5-acre mixed-use development, off Indiana State Road 62. It currently includes an upscale apartment complex, the Clark Memorial Hospital Medical Center, the 44-room Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, and the Wilson Education Center, which provides support and professional development for Indiana schools.

Frankenberger still is looking for a retail developer to build-out a 5.9-acre commercial center planned for Charlestown Landing and is moving forward with plans for the pocket neighborhood in hopes of attracting retail businesses.

A pocket neighborhood is a small community where the houses face each other and look out on green space. All the roads are constructed behind the homes, so instead of a backyard, residents will have 2.5 acres of grass and trees, with some sidewalks in the mix.

The houses will range from 1,300-1,600 square feet and have many built-in features such as shelves and cabinets.

“There is a movement for smaller things,” Frankenberger said, “smaller cars, smaller houses.”

The exterior of the homes will be made of colored fiber-reinforced concrete, which cuts down on the maintenance, he said.

He expects to spend more than $1 million on infrastructure for the residential community. An as-yet-unnamed contractor will construct several speculative homes for the neighborhood, Frankenberger said, adding that he expects to break ground in spring 2016.

People can either buy one of the speculative homes or choose from one of six different home design options that the contractor will build for them. The homes will cost an average of $230,000, Frankenberger said, nearly double the average price homes currently are selling for in Southern Indiana.

But Frankenberger is confident the unique neighborhood will draw buyers.

“Will people pay more to live in a community like this?” he said. “I think they will.” —Caitlin Bowling

University of Louisville expanding its ShelbyHurst campus

Plans for the multi-million dollar development of U of L's Shelbyhurst Campus | U of L Development Co./Frost Brown Todd

Plans for the multi-million dollar development of U of L’s ShelbyHurst Campus | U of L Development Co./Frost Brown Todd

In non-basketball scandal news, the University of Louisville has filed plans to construct a new office building on its ShelbyHurst Campus.

The building will be five stories and 150,000 square feet, according to documents filed with Louisville-Jefferson County Planning and Design Services. Called the 300 Building, it will have about 210 parking spaces and sit off North Whittington Parkway.

The construction is part U of L’s continued plans to fully develop the business and research park. Insider Louisville reported in June about a $189 million capital development plan that includes new office spaces, a multifamily residence and a conference hotel.

The ShelbyHurst Campus development is expected to generate more than $95 million in direct and indirect income, as well as almost $13 million in state and local taxes. Since the campus is a tax increment financing district, U of L will receive 80 percent of the local taxes generated off the project. —Caitlin Bowling

Local barge company acquiring competitor for $550 million

A barge hauling coal travels down the Ohio River. | Wikimedia Commons

A barge hauling coal travels down the Ohio River. | Wikimedia Commons

Jeffersonville-based barge business American Commercial Lines (ACL) will spend about $550 million to purchase American Electric Power River Operations.

Both ACL and the AEP subsidiary are inland commercial barge companies that transport various products along U.S. waterways.

“ACL and AEP River Operations are highly complementary businesses that share the same business practices and commitment to safety and customer service,” ACL president and CEO Mark Knoy said in a press release. “I know the fleet, the operations, the people and the culture on both sides, and I can’t think of a better fit.”

Knoy worked for AEP River Operations for a decade before taking the reins at ACL in 2011.

Chesterfield, Miss.-based AEP River Operations has 1,090 employees, 56 towboats and 2,301 barges, according to the release.

American Commercial Lines spokeswoman Stephanie Smith declined to comment on the acquisition beyond what is in the release. Therefore, it is unknown how many of AEP’s employees will be added to ACL’s payroll, which already boasts 2,700 employees.

ACL has 125 towboats and 1,900 barges; no word on how large its fleet will be post-acquisition.

AEP had been looking to possibly sell its river operations since March.

“AEP River Operations has an incredible legacy of success, but operating a commercial barge transportation company no longer fits well with our strategy,” Nicholas Akins, AEP chairman, president and CEO, said in the release.

The acquisition, if approved by federal regulators, is expected to close before the end of the year. —Caitlin Bowling

Kentuckiana startups nab big money this month

It’s been busy on the local venture capital scene, as evidenced by the long list of early-stage companies that received funding last month. Lisa Bajorinas of EnterpriseCorp — GLI’s entrepreneurial arm — highlighted the following investments at this week’s Venture Connectors gathering:

• $20,000: iPillbox, from XLerateHealth, is a mobile pill organizer that streamlines complicated medication schedules for patients and allows caregivers and physicians to monitor compliance securely.

• $148,721: True Secure SCASA, from Goshen, is an R&D contractor in the physical, engineering, and life sciences (except biotechnology) industry.

• $262,496: Sunstrand, has created a process that turns natural fibers into high-quality fibers that are compatible with composite manufacturing processes.

• $300,000: Gun Media, from Enterprise Angels, is actually out of Lexington. They’re game designers, directors, producers and publishers.

• $400,000: First Care, from Enterprise Angels, builds urgent care centers in rural and underserved areas. The first two centers were located in Corbin and London, Ky.

• $500,00: Gen Nine is working on a device to monitor the daily activities of the elderly living in home-care environments.

And then there was the big whammy: Louisville-based Trilogy Health Services‘ exit for $1.125 billion. Yes, that’s a B. They have been bought by a joint venture between health care investors Griffin-American Healthcare REIT III and NorthStar Healthcare Income Inc. The deal should close by the end of the year.

That brings us to 32 companies funded in 2015 to the tune of $9.8 million. We’ve also had five big exits that closed at $1.174 billion total. —Melissa Chipman

Courier-Journal rolls out new searchable archive

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 9.53.52 AMThe Courier-Journal has launched a new subscription service to access a searchable database for the newspaper’s entire archive of publications, amounting to over 28 million pages dating back to 1830.

Ultimately, the plan is for all Gannett newspapers to offer the archive through a partnership with Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com, but executive editor Neil Budde says the C-J is one of the first to roll it out.

Previously, those wanting access to such C-J archives would have to spend a considerable amount of time searching through microfilms at the Louisville Free Public Library’s main downtown branch. But now, for $7.95 a month or $59.95 a year, subscribers can search nearly two centuries of newspaper articles and front pages via a keyword search on their own computer.

Budde tells IL the new archive service is expected to be “pretty lucrative” for Gannett — which just yesterday purchased Journal Media Group for $280 million, expanding its ownership to 15 more daily newspapers in the Midwest and South.

While Budde says the archives will be popular with journalists and history geeks (i.e., me), he also suspects “some students will find it useful to get a one-month subscription for specific projects. We also hear from various groups around town that they’d like to research their history, so that could be another market.” —Joe Sonka

Jet’s Pizza prepares to open fifth Louisville location

Christmas will come early for lovers of Jet’s Pizza.

Local franchisees of the Michigan-based pizza company are opening a new location at 2500 Bardstown Road, near Trevilian Way and Taylorsville Road.

The 2,000-square-foot storefront was formerly a chiropractor’s office and will need to be completely gutted and renovated before the Jet’s Pizza can open, said store operator Chris Hrynkiw. The pizzeria will open as early as the first week of December.

“It seems like it’s a good market,” he said. The road is surrounded by nearby residential neighborhoods and is heavily trafficked.

Hrynkiw declined to say how much the franchisee group is investing in the new store. But the building permit filed with the city states that renovations will cost $150,000, though that number likely doesn’t factor in equipment purchases.

The new Bardstown Road location will seat about 20 people and, when it first opens, employ 30 to 40.

A typical Jet’s Pizza has 25 employees, Hrynkiw said, and the stores offer limited seating since the majority of its business is pick-up and delivery.

Hrynkiw said the company has received a good response from customers in Louisville, and the franchise group plans to open at least five more Jet’s Pizza stores in the metro area. —Caitlin Bowling

Louisville welcomes home a cool GE product line

1024px-General_Electric_logo.svgGE Appliances in Louisville is bringing back a product line that originated here: GE Zonelines are through-the-wall heating and cooling units that you see largely at hotels.

These units were made at Appliance Park from 1961 until 1987, when manufacturing of the product was outsourced overseas. This is only the second new product platform brought to Appliance Park in nearly 50 years.

Although they aren’t hiring yet, this will mean 75 new jobs for the park. The best candidates for these jobs, which start at $15.51 per hour, are people with Certified Production Technician training, or previous manufacturing experience.

CPT training is available at no charge through Kentucky Manufacturing Career Centers in Louisville and Shelby and Bullitt counties. New classes start Nov. 2, but there’s a mandatory orientation meeting in advance. Call the Career Center at 276-9711 ext. 4001 to find out more. —Melissa Chipman

Taco Bell receives kudos from national vegetarian organization

It feels like we’re living in a strange alternate universe since the American Vegetarian Association certified portions of Taco Bell’s menu as vegetarian friendly.


Items on Taco Bell’s menu are now American Vegetarian Association certified. | File Photo

Traditionally, vegetarian food is thought of as healthy. Taco Bell is most definitely not. So it doesn’t seem to make sense that the American Vegetarian Association gave items on Taco Bell’s menu its stamp of approval, but it’s true.

The fast-food Mexican chain has 35 AVA-certified ingredients, the majority of which also are vegan friendly as well, according to a news release.

Thirteen of Taco Bell’s menu items, including its 7-Layer Burrito and Cantina Power Veggie Bowl, are naturally vegetarian friendly, the release stated. However, other items can be made vegetarian friendly by eliminating the meat and replacing it with potatoes, beans or more veggies.

“The recent launch of ta.co, which makes customization easy, made this the perfect time to move our vegetarian menu from the background to the forefront to further illustrate our commitment to delivering food that fits our customers’ evolving lifestyles,” Brian Niccol, CEO of Taco Bell, said in the release.

Now that people know Taco Bell has some “healthier” options, the restaurant, known for its popularity among late-night snackers, may get a few more people to try it when their sober. And perhaps Taco Bell’s vegetarian offerings will hit the gastrointestinal tract a little easier than its traditional offerings.  —Caitlin Bowling

Artesano Vino Tapas Y Mas set to open Monday

A rendering of what Artesano will look like | Courtesy of Design + Architects

A rendering of what Artesano will look like | Courtesy of Design+ Architects

The Martinez family seems to be in a race against itself for most restaurants opened in three years.

The culinary family, which consists of Christina Martinez, Fernando Martinez and Yaniel Martinez, opened its second Mussel & Burger Bar location, this one downtown, on Monday.

And this Monday, Oct. 12, the Martinezes are debuting Artesano Vino Tapas Y Mas, a Spanish tapas restaurant with an extensive wine list, in Westport Village.

Artesano will start out serving dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and it will slowly add lunch service, brunch and Sunday dinner.

Counting Artesano, the Martinezes have opened six restaurants since 2012 when they opened Guaca Mole.

That number is expected to jump to seven in February 2016 when the trio opens Red Barn Kitchen, a Southern barbecue restaurant, in the former Joe’s Older Than Dirt bar and restaurant. —Caitlin Bowling