The Closing Bell: Griff’s aims for fall opening; KFC Zinger launch approaches; home sales rise 6.5% in May; TSA PreCheck pop-up; and more

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.

Check out these renderings of Griff’s downtown

Construction work along Second Street is about to get busier.

A building permit was issued allowing renovation work to get underway on the former O’Malley’s Corner site. The vacant building will house a 11,000-square-foot Griff’s sports bar and restaurant, named after former basketball player and restaurant partner Darrell Griffith.

Insider reported in March that the new location – Griff’s second — would include garage doors, an outdoor patio and a rooftop garden. The design also includes two digital screens hanging up at the corner of Second and Liberty; Griff’s will have to go back to the Downtown Development Overlay committee for approvals for the screens however.

Originally, the partners expected the restaurant would open in August, but Brian Perry, the partner who will oversee day-to-day operations of Griff’s, said this week that he wasn’t sure when the restaurant would open but he hoped it would be before the start of college basketball season.

“We have been significantly delayed,” he said, by a longer than expected design approval process.

The new Griff’s will sit just down Second Street from the 30-story Omni Louisville and the Kentucky International Convention Center, both of which are under construction.  —Caitlin Bowling

KFC in space, Twinkies at Long John Silver’s

Two local restaurant companies are testing new waters in their own ways.

Louisville-based chicken chain KFC is launching its Zinger chicken sandwich into the stratosphere with the help from technology company World View.

If successful, it will be the longest controlled stratospheric balloon flight with a commercial payload in history and World View’s first-ever multi-day mission for its flight system, a news release about the partnership states.

The success of the technology would open up the possibility of using stratospheric balloons as stationary Wi-Fi hubs in remote or undeveloped parts of the world. They also could be used to monitor crises, such as weather-related disasters, and help predict weather events.

“We’re excited to be the ones pushing spicy, crispy chicken sandwich space travel forward,” Kevin Hochman, president of KFC U.S., said in the release. “But in all seriousness, we’re proud to support World View’s commitment to advancing space research and trust them to take our world-famous Zinger sandwich to space.”

The launch window for the Zinger sandwich opens on June 21.

Meanwhile, Louisville-based seafood chain Long John Silver’s has added the Hostess Deep Fried Twinkie to the menu in two test markets, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, and plans a nationwide introduction in the coming months, the company announced. For those headed to either of those test markets, the deep-fried Twinkie will set you back 99 cents until July 23.

“We know from decades of experience that people crave our food,” Katie Rooprai, vice president of brand marketing for Long John Silver’s, said in the announcement. “They will pass several other restaurants to satisfy their Long John Silver’s craving. We think the Deep Fried Twinkie™ will be the perfect sweet ending for those making the trip.” —Caitlin Bowling

Report: Home sales up 6.5 percent in May

The latest update from the Greater Louisville Association of Realtors shows continued strong homes sales in 2017.

These numbers give a snapshot of the Louisville MSA housing market. | Courtesy of Greater Louisville Association of Realtors

From January through May 2017, homes sales in the Louisville MSA rose 3.7 percent, with 6,754 homes sold. In May, home sales increased 6.5 percent, with 1,723 houses sold.

Inventory in the Louisville MSA remains low, dropping 17 percent, according to the GLAR report.

“Our members are seeing a slight improvement in inventory of available properties, but move-in ready homes under $250,000 are still in very short supply with multiple offer situations still the norm,” Allison Bartholomew, president of GLAR, said in the report. “Financing is available to most borrowers, and 30-year rates have been around a historical low of 4 percent.”

In Jefferson County alone, the average home price in May 2017 was $216,285. The inventory of homes and condos for sale declined 15.2 percent.

Home sales increased 4.4 percent, to 4,6775 houses sold, in Jefferson County from January to May. —Caitlin Bowling

Save a little grief next time you fly

Flying these days offers an endless gauntlet of indignities. Sure most people aren’t dragged off plans, cursed at by attendants or made to spend the night in an airport terminal. But there are still the lines, the taking off of the shoes, the figuring out what you need to and don’t need to take out of your bag when you go through the X-ray.

Louisville Airport is giving you the chance to skip some of those indignities.

A temporary center for travelers to apply to the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck boarding program is being set up at Louisville International Airport.

The center will be in the west side ticketing, behind the Allegiant and United Airlines ticket counters and will be 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday, June 26, through Friday, June 30.

In May 2017, 97 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers waited less than five minutes, according to the PreCheck website.

Fill out a five-minute application then make an appointment via the TSA website at the airport. There you will have a 10-minute in person background check including fingerprinting. You will receive a PreCheck number that you can use when making a reservation to secure the PreCheck privileges.

The cost is $85 and it lasts for five years.

There is a permanent TSA PreCheck office in DuPont Circle at 4010 DuPont Circle, Suite 482. That office is open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. —Melissa Chipman

Five local schools selected for StageOne’s ‘Disney Musicals in Schools’ program

Five schools a year will be chosen for the program. | Courtesy of “Disney Musicals in Schools”

This spring, IL shared the news that Walt Disney Corp. was giving StageOne a $100,000 grant to help fund a new theater education program for five area schools each year. Titled “Disney Musicals in Schools,” the selected schools will participate in a 17-week musical theater residency at no cost.

On Thursday, the first five schools to participate were announced — four in Louisville: Camp Taylor Elementary, Foster Traditional Academy, Gutermuth Elementary and Hartstern Elementary, plus one in Clarksville, Ind., Clarksville Elementary.

The program includes performance rights, education support materials and guidance for each school in the hopes that they continue a musical theater program in the future.

“We at StageOne are thrilled to collaborate with Disney on this incredible program, and we’re excited to work closely with these schools in the upcoming school year,” said Peter Holloway, producing artistic director of StageOne, in a press release.

The schools will be able to choose from the likes of “101 Dalmatians,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” and many more. Louisville is one of 15 cities selected by Disney. —Sara Havens

Trump’s ‘mean’ health care bill comment fuels insurance industry turmoil

Donald Trump | Photo via Creative Commons

President Donald J. Trump this week criticized the health care legislation that he championed a month ago.

The Associated Press reported that Trump told Republican senators, who are working on their own health care law, that the House bill is “mean” and that the Senate should adopt a “more generous” bill.

The AP said Trump’s comments were “a surprising slap” at the Republican-written House bill and “seemed to undercut attempts by Senate leaders to assuage conservatives who want restrictions in their chamber’s bill, such as cutting the Medicaid health care program for the poor and limiting the services insurers must cover.”

The Congressional Budget Office had said that the House bill, the American Health Care Act, would reduce the federal deficit by $11.9 billion per year over 10 years, but also leave 23 million more Americans without health coverage by 2026.

Trump’s apparent change of mind comes at a time of significant turmoil in the health exchanges, which are a central part of President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known informally as Obamacare. The exchanges enable people who do not get health insurance through a government or employer plan to obtain insurance from providers such as Humana and Anthem. However, insurers have said that the people who sign up for insurance through the exchanges are sicker and older than expected, which means the cost of their health care services has exceeded the insurance premiums the insurance companies have collected.

Insurers have raised prices on the exchanges significantly, but Humana and some other companies still said that the exchange customers have cost them hundreds of millions of dollars. Humana this year reduced the number of counties in which it is offering exchange plans. Next year, it will stop selling such plans altogether. Anthem announced this month that it would stop selling plans in Ohio.

Anthem, based in Indianapolis, is the only insurer that offers an exchange plan in all 120 counties in Kentucky. In about half the counties, Anthem is the only insurer that is offering any exchange plans.

Anthem told Insider this week that it had not yet decided on its participation in Kentucky next year.

“We remain in active dialogue with state leaders and regulators in hopes that we can find a sustainable path moving forward before we are required to make a decision,” the company told Insider via email. —Boris Ladwig

State leaders: ‘essential skills’ law coming in 2018

To address Kentucky employers’ struggles to attract and retain qualified employees, state legislative leaders said they will pass a bill next year to require high schools to teach “essential skills,” such as showing up on time.

State Rep. John “Bam” Carney

House Education Chair Bam Carney told the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce that the state legislature next year “is going to pass” an essential skills bill.

“I’ve not met one industry or manufacturer that hasn’t said ‘essential skills, essential skills, we’ve got to have a trained workforce,’ ” Carney said.

An essential skills bill this past session passed the House — but not the Senate.

The bill required every school to have an essential skills program that would teach, among other things, an openness to problem solving, taking appropriate action without waiting for instruction and self-control.

To make sure that high school graduates have obtained essential skills, they would have to meet three of seven possible goals, including completing a dual credit course; 25 hours of service learning, community service or extracurricular activities; or submitting to random drug tests.

Brent McKim, president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said the group supports focusing on 21st century skills.

“In our increasingly information-rich world, learning content and facts is becoming less important than learning how to access information, process it, and make critical judgments about its quality and validity,” McKim told Insider via email.

“Anyone with a smartphone can access the sort of information schools have traditionally focused on teaching.  We need students to be able to distinguish valid information from biased misinformation and have the perseverance to follow through on sophisticated work.”

McKim had told Insider during the most recent legislative session that new curriculum requirements, even those that have merit, have to be considered in context with already existing demands.

If you think of instruction time as a pie, adding a requirement, whether for civics or financial literacy, takes away instruction time for English, math or other subjects, he said.

“The pie doesn’t get any bigger if we add another requirement,” he said. —Boris Ladwig

Rooibee Red Tea donates 5,000 cases of tea

Photo courtesy of Rooibee Red Tea

Louisville’s Rooibee Red Tea announced that the company will be donating more than 5,000 cases of the organic tea to a number of local and national nonprofits.

Local recipients include Home of the Innocents, FEAT, Boy Scouts of America Lincoln Heritage Council and Foxhollow Farm.

Nationally, Rooibee is donating $3,200 cases to Feeding America Kentucky’s Heartland and 2,000 cases to Feed Our Vets.

Feeding America Kentucky’s Heartlands works with families in need in 42 counties. Feed Our Vets provides food assistance to veterans in need.

“Feed Our Vets is so grateful for this huge donation from Rooibee Red Tea,” said FeedOur Vets Founder and Executive Director, Rich Synek said in a news release. “We’re always looking for ways to provide extra nutrition for the veterans we serve. To be able to supplement the food we provide to veteran families with a drink that supports their daily caloric intake, is caffeine free, full of antioxidants and vitamin C helps our work assisting veterans to be healthy and successful. We know these drinks will be a popular item in our pantries, where veteran families always choose the food they need for the month.”

Rooibee Red Tea is made with rooibos which is grown in the Western Cape of South Africa. It was first launched at farmers markets in Louisville in 2009 and now comes in six flavors. Melissa Chipman

Louisville Grows finds new executive director

Kedrick “Ked” Stanfield and a goose | Courtesy of Louisville Grows

Environmental and agriculture nonprofit Louisville Grows has named Kedrick “Ked” Stanfield as its new executive director.

“Louisville Grows is committed to serving our community and our neighbors through our urban agriculture, forestry, and environmental education programming,” the nonprofit stated in a news release. “The Louisville Grows Board of Directors is excited to move these programs and services forward with Ked’s leadership and the expertise and skills of our dedicated program directors, staff, and AmeriCorps VISTA.”

Stanfield succeeds interim executive director Jessica Pendergrass, who has held the position since September 2016. Pendergrass will serve in advisory capacity.

During the past several months, Stanfield has worked with Louisville Grows leadership and volunteered at two Louisville Grows’ community gardens, Hope Farm and The People’s Garden.

Stanfield is a Louisville native and formerly served as a compliance and enforcement supervisor for Louisville-Jefferson County Metro Government. He received a bachelor of arts in health sciences and a master’s of public health from Eastern Kentucky University. —Caitlin Bowling

Update: The post was updated to clarify the local teachers association’s position on the teaching of essential skills.