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.

Seelbach Hilton Hotel owner puts historic hotel up for sale

The opulent lobby features marble, bronze and hardwood. | Courtesy of Seelbach Hilton Hotel

The opulent lobby features marble, bronze and hardwood. | Courtesy of Seelbach Hilton Hotel

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated.

The 111-year-old historic Seelbach Hilton Hotel is on the market.

Insider Louisville received a tip that international real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle was listing the hotel, located at 500 S. Fourth St.

The hotel is not listed publicly on the company’s website, but IL reached Alyssa Simpson, an analyst with JLL’s Hotels & Hospitality Group, by phone. Simpson declined to comment then, saying she was waiting to hear back from the owner of the Seelbach, Maryland-based Thayer Lodging, before responding to our inquiry about the sale.

In a follow-up email, Simpson wrote: “According to our firm’s and our client’s policy, we cannot comment on the active marketing campaign given it’s an active business.”

IL reached out via email to Thayer Lodging’s chief operating officer Bruce Wiles, who IL was told is out of town this week. He responded Thursday afternoon that he is staying at a remote fishing lodge with Internet but no telephone.*

IL asked if he would comment on the sale through email. He did not reply before press time, so we don’t know what the minimum asking price for the hotel is or why the company decided to place it on the market now.

Thayer Lodging, along with venture partner Jin Jiang Hotels, bought Interstate Hotels & Resorts in 2010, according to its website. The purchase included the Seelbach, which Interstate staff continues to manage.

The Seelbach is a four-diamond luxury hotel constructed with marble imported from around the world, bronze from France, hardwood from the West Indies and Europe, linens from Ireland, and valuable Turkish and Persian Rugs, according to the Seelbach’s website. It was founded by businessmen Otto and Louis Seelbach.

The 321-room, 11-story hotel has housed such notable guests as gangster Al Capone, author F. Scott Fitzgerald, musician Billy Joel and many more. Today, the Seelbach also houses a Starbucks coffee shop, the Old Seelbach Bar and the restaurants Gatsby’s on Fourth and The Oakroom. The Oakroom is currently closed for renovation but is expected to reopen this fall.

The Seelbach isn’t the only local hotel to hit the real estate market lately. The Al J. Schneider Co. tried to sell the Galt House Hotel earlier this year, but the process became mired in a family legal battle.

*On Friday afternoon, Wiles responded with a comment about the sale: “The only reason we are selling it is the fund that owns it is near the end of its liquidation period. It’s a great hotel, and we would otherwise be happy to continue to own it.” —Caitlin Bowling

Ford teams up with tequila maker to make bioplastics

Ford Motor Company is teaming up with Jose Cuervo® to explore the use of the tequila producer’s agave plant byproduct to develop more sustainable bioplastics to employ in Ford vehicles. |Courtesy of Ford.

Ford Motor Company is working with Jose Cuervo to develop more sustainable bioplastics for Ford vehicles. | Courtesy of Ford

Ford Motor Co. is working with tequila maker Jose Cuervo to develop bioplastics from the agave plant to lower vehicle cost and weight and improve fuel efficiency.

Before agave can be used in tequila, it has to grow a minimum of seven years. The heart of the plant is roasted, before its juices are extracted for distillation. Jose Cuervo gives some of the remaining fibers to artists and crafters and uses uses some fibers as compost.

But Ford said in a press release that initial assessments indicate the material shows great promise for use in auto manufacturing “due to its durability and aesthetic qualities.”

Ford envisions using the bioplastics for components such as wiring harnesses, HVAC units and storage bins.

“As a leader in the sustainability space, we are developing new technologies to efficiently employ discarded materials and fibers, while potentially reducing the use of petrochemicals and light-weighting our vehicles for desired fuel economy,” said Debbie Mielewski, senior technical leader in Ford’s sustainability research department.

Ford began using biomaterials in 2000. Its vehicles now include components made from soy, wheat and coconut.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, agriculture annually generates about 5 billion metric tons of biomass, which is largely underutilized, although it is free and available.

Ford said the materials can be used to replace more expensive and less environmentally friendly materials and can lower vehicle weight, thereby improving fuel economy.

“There are about 400 pounds of plastic on a typical car,” Mielewski said. “Our job is to find the right place for a green composite like this to help our impact on the planet. It is work that I’m really proud of, and it could have broad impact across numerous industries.” —Boris Ladwig

Federal Reserve: Louisville employers struggling to find workers

Federal Reserve LogoLouisville employers are struggling to attract employees, which is pushing wages higher, especially in manufacturing, according to a report by the Federal Reserve.

Employers in the Louisville area, including Ford and GE Appliances, have said they’re having a hard time finding and retaining qualified employees.

The Fed is the country’s central banking system. Its roles include maximizing employment.

For the Eighth District, which includes Kentucky, the agency reported that economic conditions “have continued to improve at a modest pace,” with modest growth in manufacturing activity and retail sales, but a strong residential real estate market and robust banking conditions.

The agency found slight price pressures, modest employment growth and strong wage growth.

“Contacts in Louisville noted that difficulty attracting employees is resulting in upward
pressure on wages, particularly in the manufacturing sector,” the Fed wrote.

“A manufacturing contact in Louisville reported employment in their firm increased by 4 percent compared with the same period last year, and contacts across several industries expect employment to be either stable or increasing over the next year.” —Boris Ladwig

But wait! Thorntons hiring 100 new people, ups its internal minimum wage

Thorntons is give all its stores a new, modern look. | File Photo

Thorntons is giving all its stores a new, modern look. | File Photo

Louisville-based gas station company Thorntons is looking for 100 new employees to work as “guest service representatives,” according to a news release.

The company will pay a starting wage of $10.25 an hour, which is 12 percent higher than the Thorntons’ current minimum hourly wage and $0.75 higher than the city’s current minimum wage limit, the release states.

“With our high energy culture and focus on team member development, Thorntons is a great place to begin a first or second career,” said Matt Thornton, CEO of Thorntons, in the release.

In addition to the 100 new jobs, Thorntons in the future will be hiring for store managers, general managers, food service managers, drivers and other positions as the company continues to grow.

Thorntons offers an Employee Stock Ownership Program, matching 401K contributions up to 4 percent, free food and drinks for employees, group insurance and discounts on gas. To apply for an open position, click here.

The company is in the process of building a new $27.8 million, 92,500-square-foot headquarters at on Linn Station Road behind Jewish Hospital Medical Center Northeast. It also is investing $125 million to renovate its stores in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Tennessee and Florida. —Caitlin Bowling

Papa John’s faces lawsuit, enters new international market

PapaJohnsThere’s a lot happening with Louisville-based pizza chain Papa John’s International.

Analysts with KeyBanc Capital Markets upgraded the outlook for the company, according to MarketWatch, saying they expect Papa John’s will benefit this year from political and civil unrest as consumers look to stay home.

Papa John’s opened its first store in Amsterdam in the Netherlands on July 18 and plans to open two more later this year. The move into the Netherlands comes after a string of first store openings in other countries in Europe and Africa.

And finally, the company is facing a lawsuit from St. Louis-based fast-casual chain Panera Bread, according to the St. Louis Business Journal, which broke the story.

The lawsuit claims that former Panera employee Michael Nettles, who was involved in high-level discussion and knew privileged information, stole information from the company when he left to work for Papa John’s, the St. Louis Business Journal reported. It also claims Papa John’s pursued Nettles even though the company knew he’d signed a non-compete clause. —Caitlin Bowling

Consumer group lobbies KFC to eliminate routine antibiotics from its chicken

The $5 Fill-Up is a popular offering for the brand. | Courtesy of KFC Corp.

The $5 Fill-Up is a popular offering for the brand. | Courtesy of KFC Corp.

An organization called U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) this week sent a letter to KFC CEO Roger Eaton, asking the company to stop using chicken farmers and suppliers who use antibiotics for anything other than to treat a sick animal.

“Widespread, routine use of antibiotics where there is no cause is irresponsible and can promote the evolution of disease-resistant bacteria in the food supply,” said Dr. Anne Wallis, a reproductive epidemiologist in Louisville, in a news release. “In addition to regulation and policies prohibiting the injudicious use of antibiotics in livestock, we as citizens can choose to buy meat from suppliers and restaurants that buy only from producers who certify that they restrain the use of antibiotics.”

The release calls antibiotic resistance “public enemy No. 1” and cites a Pew Charitable Trust study stating that 70 percent of antibiotics are purchased for use on livestock and poultry.

“Antibiotic resistant bacteria don’t stay put, they can spread off of farms and into communities via contaminated food products, or by water, soil, and air,” the letter itself reads. It notes that KFC’s top competitor, Chick-fil-A, as well as Subway, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Panera Bread and McDonald’s have committed to serving antibiotic-free meat.

KFC is looking to reduce the amount of antibiotic-free poultry it uses but has not committed to quitting them cold turkey. —Caitlin Bowling

Group hosts youth, anti-violence event this weekend

#YNOTUS logoWith the recent uptick in violent crimes in Louisville, one group is hoping to bring some positivity to the community.

Called #YNOTUS, the group says it tries to bring young people to show off their talents and build relationships. #YNOTUS will lead a youth showcase and anti-violence event from 5-8 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, at First Congregational Methodist Church, located at 3810 Garland Ave. in the Chickasaw neighborhood.

“There is so much talent in this city and in our generation (the Millennial generation) that hasn’t been tapped into or shown little if any attention. This talent/gifted showcase for people in our generation is open to everyone in Louisville,” a new release states.

The event also will offer mentorship opportunities and information on various citywide programs.

IL previously reported that violent crime rates are up in Louisville. The city has reported 57 homicides this year as of July 11, up 25 percent for the same period a year ago. —Caitlin Bowling

Looking for Lilith heads to the Big Apple


Photo from the original production of “Alice in Black and White”

The Looking for Lilith Theatre Company‘s production of “Alice in Black and White” will be part of 59E59 Theater’s summer season and runs Aug. 3-14 in the midtown Manhattan theater. LFL revives its production in honor of the 150th anniversary of Staten Island photographer Alice Austen’s birth, whose romance with another woman is at the center of the play.

The production, which premiered in Louisville when LFL launched it in May 2013, won the StageWrite Women’s Theatre Initiative Award and is by NYC writer Robin Rice.

Six of the seven original actors, together with the original production team, are reunited for this show. —Melissa Chipman

Fund for the Arts raises nearly $9 million in its 2016 campaign

FundThe Fund for the Arts recently closed their annual campaign, raising a total of $8,749,454 in 2016. This is its most successful campaign since 2009 under the tentative leadership of Fund president and CEO Christen Boone and 2016 Campaign Chair and Republic Bank Chairman and CEO Steve Trager.

The money was raised through the support of nearly 20,000 donors and hundreds of corporate sponsors.

“Louisville’s generosity to the united arts campaign is unmatched with our per capita giving three times that of other cities,” Boone said in a press release. “It speaks to the incredible inspiration, energy and impact of the arts here — and I am grateful for the support our community shows in helping create a stronger, more vibrant city through the arts.”

Funds raised go toward creating arts experiences and increasing access to the arts for everyone. —Sara Havens

Help LVL1 celebrate its sixth birthday

Courtesy of LVL1

Courtesy of LVL1

Six years ago, a bunch of scrappy geeks put together Louisville’s first makerspace, before makerspaces were cool. Now they’re inviting you to their sixth anniversary party. LVL1 wants you to “come celebrate six years of making, voiding warranties and helping everyone learn about 3-D printing, laser cutting, woodworking, metal working, microcontrollers, sewing, embroidery and a host of other topics.”

The event runs 4-7 p.m. on Saturday, July 23, at 1205 E. Washington St. There will be cake, drinks and examples of things made and hacked at LVL1.

The event is free, but you should let them know you’re coming on Eventbrite. –Melissa Chipman