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.

Ali Center leaders talk about The Greatest’s lasting impact on Louisville

Muhammad Ali was born in Louisville in 1942. | Photo via Creative Commons

Muhammad Ali was born in Louisville in 1942. | Photo via Creative Commons

The most valuable thing Muhammad Ali possessed was his image.

Not only did he use it to earn money for his family, he used it to benefit charities around the world, and he used it to help Louisville.

“Much more than whatever he was doing for himself, he did for charities all over the country, all over the world,” said Ina Brown Bond, chairman emeritus of the board of the Muhammad Ali Center. “When I first got involved in the center, I think he and Lonnie were traveling all over the world to raise money for things.”

She noted that the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center alone has raised more than $100 million for Parkinson’s disease research.

Back in the 1990s when Louisville hosted the national American Red Cross conference, Ali agreed to open the ceremonies.

“Of course, he didn’t charge anything or charge me for his plane fare, his hotel or anything,” she said.

Notably, Bond’s father — William Lee Lyons Brown, former head of Brown-Forman — was one of 11 businessmen who sponsored Ali after he won the gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics and before he beat Sonny Liston for the first time in 1964.

When asked what she felt his greatest contribution to Louisville was, Bond said that he remembered the city.

“That he never forgot this was his hometown. He was so big, as I said. He met every president, he met Mother Teresa, the pope, Mandela, everybody. He was this huge person, yet he always remembered Louisville as his hometown. The fact that he is coming back here to be buried here is huge,” she said. “The (Ali) Center could have been built — they wanted it in Las Vegas. They wanted it in Washington. They wanted it in other big venues, but he chose to do this here in his hometown.”

When the center was being planned and built, Ali and his wife Lonnie were there every step of the way, Bond said.

“Everything, every little detail. There wasn’t anything that we did that didn’t get approved by the Alis or designed or thought of by the Alis,” she said. “The Alis were very involved in designing the exhibits because Muhammad didn’t want it to be so much about something to put him on a pedestal. …He always dreamed of creating a place that would teach and inspire people to be the best that they could be and to pursue their dreams. Of course, he wanted more than just that. He wanted it to promote peace, hope and understanding.”

Some Louisville residents forget how prominent a figure Ali was globally, said Ali Center president and CEO Donald Lassere.

“We had a diamond,” he said. “Because he was out of the limelight so long, people here didn’t recognize how big he was.” —Caitlin Bowling

Businessmen Bruce Lunsford, Pat Mulloy weigh in on Aetna-Humana merger

Businessmen Bruce Lunsford, left, and Pat Mulloy talked about Louisville's economy during PRG Investment event. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Businessmen Bruce Lunsford, left, and Pat Mulloy talked about Louisville’s economy during PRG Investment event. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

It was only natural that the merger between Humana and Aetna came up when Bruce Lunsford and Pat Mulloy — both of whom have backgrounds in health care — spoke earlier this week at an invite-only forum event.

Lunsford founded a health care company called Vencor, which is now known as Kindred Healthcare, and Mulloy is CEO of Elmcroft Senior Living and formerly head of Atria Senior Living.

“My gut is that they are going to get Justice Department approval on this,” Mulloy told attendees. “They’ve got a lot of good lawyers who’ve thought this thing through. The good news for Louisville is that the engine, the heart of Humana is Medicare. They are the best (Medicare) provider …in the country. That’s what fueled their growth the last 10 or 15 years. They figured that out, and that piece of the business I think will stay here. I think Aetna’s smart.”

Mulloy noted that Aetna has not committed to staying in Connecticut, where it’s currently headquartered, and while there are probably a number of other states vying for the company, he said, he’s heard second and third hand that people in Kentucky and Louisville are “working hard to talk to them.”

Although he didn’t directly comment on the merger, Lunsford said community involvement is different when a company is bought versus when someone starts a business in a city.

“You don’t have an emotional commitment to the community,” he said. “Founders are always great because founders are really good to the community, because they feel like they owe it.”

Lunsford praised Yum! Brands CEO David Novak and called him special for becoming invested in Louisville.

“That’s what made Novak so special. He comes in here. He gets emotionally committed to Christian Academy,” he said. “You couldn’t move him out of here, and they were great for the community, and he had tremendous things that he got involved in.”

For more on what Lunsford and Mulloy had to say about education, taxes and quality of life in Louisville, check out IL’s story from earlier this week. —Caitlin Bowling

Soccer club taps C-J reporter to handle media relations

louisville-city-fc-logo 600xx2373-1582-14-0Louisville’s pro-soccer club, Louisville City FC, has hired a former Courier-Journal reporter as director of media relations to expand the team’s media exposure.

Jonathan Lintner, who covered soccer and other sports for the newspaper, joined the club this week.

Lintner, a Louisville native and Western Kentucky University graduate, said in a press release that he is thrilled to help promote the team about which he has written from its earliest beginnings.

Team President Amanda Duffy said Lintner knows the local sports media and the club, and she looks forward to working with him “as we expand our media coverage and relationships across the state.”

Jonathan Lintner

Jonathan Lintner

LouCity FC’s former director of marketing and communications, Adam Geigerman, is no longer with the club.

A post on the website of one of the local fan clubs indicated concerns about the lack of media coverage about the club this year, especially compared to the inaugural season.

“There has been a noticeable silence from voices that were promoting the team from day one last year,” Louisville Coopers member Jason Ence wrote. “Lintner’s experience in the local media will help rebuild some of the relationships that have suffered this season.”

Meanwhile, the team’s athletic success has continued: Since dropping its home opener, the club has gone undefeated in 10 straight regular season matches. LouCity remains atop the United Soccer League’s Eastern Conference standings — though second-place Red Bulls NY II has played one game less, and could move into first place with a victory.

LouCity FC this month also took a step toward boosting merchandising revenues by opening a store at 127 S. 6th St., where it sells apparel and other items. Boris Ladwig

West Louisville FoodPort finalist for national funding competition

The latest rendering of the West Louisville FoodPort | Courtesy of Seed Capital Kentucky

The latest rendering of the West Louisville FoodPort | Courtesy of Seed Capital Kentucky

The nonprofit behind the West Louisville FoodPort, Seed Capital Kentucky, is still piecing together some of the funding needed to make the development successful, and it may have found a new source.

The project is one of 80 finalists for ArtPlace America’s National Creative Placemaking Fund. ArtPlace America is a partnership between foundations, federal agencies and financial institutions to support projects that incorporate arts and culture. The projects address needs related to agriculture and food; economic development; education and youth; environment and energy; health; housing; immigration; public safety; transportation; and workforce development.

More than 1,300 applications were submitted for funding this year, according to a news release from Seed Capital Kentucky. The nonprofit now will submit a more extensive application and schedule a summer site visit with an ArtPlace America staff member and a national peer expert.

Then a group of peer experts will meet for an in-person panel meeting this fall before announcing in Decmember which projects will receive a cut of the $10.5 million in funding available this year.

Seed Capital Kentucky is set to break ground on the West Louisville FoodPort in late August at the earliest. Read more about the food port project here, here and here. —Caitlin Bowling

Maryland company building $27 million hotel in Louisville

This rendering show how the new hotel would look. | Courtesy of Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government

This rendering show how the new hotel would look. | Courtesy of Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government

Louisville’s hotel boom isn’t over yet.

Maryland-based company Choice Hotels International has filed plans with Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government to built a six-story, 128-room hotel at 120 S. Floyd St.

The property was for many years home to The Connection, which is set to move to Smoketown where the nightclub’s owners have opened a boutique hotel called Vu Guesthouse.

In its application, Choice Hotels International said the new hotel would cost $27 million to build, and the hotel brand will be the upscale Cambria Hotels & Suites. The hotel will employ 40 people and is expected to earn an estimated $500,000 to $600,000 on food and beverage sales alone each month, according to the documents. Cambria Hotels include a full bar and bistro.

The company is hoping to demolish the existing buildings and will need approval from the Downtown Development Review Overlay before it can get started. —Caitlin Bowling

Who you gonna call? Papa John’s?

Papa John's is partnering with Ghostbusters ahead of the movie release. | Courtesy of Business Wire

Papa John’s is partnering with Ghostbusters ahead of the movie release. | Courtesy of Business Wire

Louisville pizza company Papa John’s International is known for its partnerships with major sports organizations and is now making the leap to the big screen.

Papa John’s will appear in the new “Ghostbusters,” a reimagined version of the 1984 hit movie. It will debut on July 15.

Meanwhile, Papa John’s will introduce a limited-time product and a new pizza box design tied to the film, according to a news release. The product wasn’t identified in the news release, leaving people to wonder what green, slimy ingredients may be featured.

The company also will premiere a television spot on June 27 featuring an “iconic” Ghostbusters character.

“Movies bring people together, just like pizza, so this film partnership is a natural fit for us,” Robert Thompson, senior vice president of of marketing for Papa John’s, said in the release. “It’s a new take on a classic that will bring Ghostbusters to a new, younger audience. Keep an eye out for a memorable character from the original Ghostbusters film, as well as a new addition to the team in our upcoming marketing campaign.” —Caitlin Bowling

Ask and ye shall receive a direct flight

In February, Greater Louisville Inc. polled its members about cites that are within a two-hour flight that are not currently served by nonstop air service from Louisville. The cities that respondents most desired direct flights to were New Orleans, Kansas City, Raleigh, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh.

Well, Pittsburgh, here we come!

OneJet is expanding its operations to Louisville International Airport with daily direct flights to Pittsburgh beginning July 18.

OneJet is an air transportation network that provides increased access to nonstop travel in small and medium size markets. It currently operates in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Hartford and Milwaukee.

“We are excited for this opportunity to serve the Louisville market,” Matthew Maquire, CEO of OneJet, said in a press release. “It’s a thriving community, with strong air markets and exceptional potential growth.”

Convenience ain’t cheap, though. We priced out a roundtrip ticket from Indy to Pittsburgh, and the fare topped $650.

That’s because the company is “specifically tailored to meet the needs of corporate travel programs and general business travelers. The Company’s base model is built around not only a service focus to heavily demanded markets but also partnership with local civic and corporate investors.”

The schedules are designed for business travel– leaving in the morning, coming home in the evening. The planes are teeny. There’s no checked luggage allowed. But they have healthy snacks and free Wi-Fi on every flight.

Should this private-public partnership go smoothly, expect more direct flights  to Raleigh, New Orleans and Kansas City. —Melissa Chipman

Newsweek recognizes Humana, Brown-Forman for environmental performance

HumanaNewsweek has named two Louisville businesses among the nation’s top 100 publicly traded companies in environmental performance.

The magazine scored the nation’s top 500 publicly traded companies on eight indicators, including consumption of water and energy and production of greenhouse gases.

Health insurer Humana ranked 18th, up seven spots from last year’s ranking. Aetna, the Hartford, Conn.-based company that wants to buy Humana, ranked 64th.

Humana said in its most recent Corporate Social Responsibility Report that it “cannot achieve deep and lasting gains in member health or community health without … efforts … (to) help us avoid potential harmful effects of unmanaged emissions and hazardous materials.”

Humana said it has adopted “ambitious” environmental sustainability goals for 2017, including a 5 percent cut in energy use and greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2013.

Newsweek ranked Louisville distiller Brown-Forman 52nd in its green ranking this year, up 17 spots from 2015.

The Garneau Building on Brown-Forman's Louisville campus.

Brown-Forman HQ.

Brown-Forman Chief Production Officer Alex Alvarez said in a press release that sustainability “supports Brown-Forman’s vision of enduring forever. Our environmental performance creates opportunities for cost savings, efficiency, and innovation in our production operations.”

In 2014, the company set aggressive environmental goals, including sending no waste to landfills and cutting water use.

Toy maker Hasbro ranked first on the Newsweek list, sportswear company Nike was second, and chocolate maker Hershey ranked third.

Louisville-based Yum! Brands ranked 201st. Six energy companies ranked at the bottom. The bottom three were Pioneer Natural Resources Co., Cheniere Energy Inc. and Western Gas Equity Partners LP. Boris Ladwig

Haier donates $100K to boost manufacturing jobs

GE Appliances’ new parent company said it will donate $100,000 to a nonprofit that helps people prepare for careers in manufacturing.

China-based Qingdao Haier made the announcement this week after it completed its acquisition of the Louisville-based appliance division that formerly was part of General Electric.

GE Appliances CEO Chip Blankenship reiterated in a press briefing Monday that the lack of skilled workers is “a crisis” that hampers the manufacturing sector’s growth.

The donation will fund a manager position for a new Manufacturing Workforce Pipeline Development Accelerator, which is to boost the number of manufacturing employees. The Accelerator will be part of the nonprofit Greater Louisville Chapter of the Kentucky Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education, which aims “to increase the pipeline of mid-skilled manufacturing workers through its Advanced Manufacturing Technician …program,” the companies said in a press release.

The program’s students divide their week studying at Jefferson Community and Technical College and working at a manufacturing facility. After two years, the students can earn, with little to no debt, an applied associate degree in Advanced Manufacturing Technology.

The first class, which began last summer, includes 11 students. Boris Ladwig

Programming note: Make-up Flea Off

Last Saturday’s Flea Off Market was a washout. Enough people were bummed that the organizers have scheduled a make-up day for this Saturday, June 11. They will have extended hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The event — which features an assortment of vendors, food trucks, libations and live music — takes place at 1007 E. Jefferson St., in the parking lot of Fresh Start Growers Supply.

The next Flea Off Market is July 1-3. —Melissa Chipman