The Closing Bell: Aetna hires lobbyists; new digital agency hosts hackathon; UofL seeks to change street name; 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.
Aetna boosts lobbying muscle as feds review Humana acquisition
Aetna has enlisted some powerful lobbying muscle — including one tied to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — as the company tries to convince federal regulators to let it acquire Louisville-based Humana.
The company has secured the services of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., according to paperwork filed with with the U.S. Senate. The form lists Aetna as the client of The Daschle Group — though the group told the International Business Times that the merger “is not in the scope of our representation.”
Aetna is trying to buy Humana for $34 billion. Shareholders of both companies have given the go-ahead, but the acquisition still needs approval from some state agencies and the U.S. Department of Justice, which wants to make sure the deal does not significantly reduce competition.
The IBT story also lists among Aetna’s lobbyists others tied to powerful politicians, including Malloy McDaniel, of West Front Strategies, a former policy advisor to McConnell.
Although the proposed deal has received significant opposition from hospital and medical groups and some powerful politicians, company officials expect the acquisition to be completed this year. —Boris Ladwig
Kale & Flax to contribute website to ‘One Love Louisville’ program
Tarik Nally’s digital agency, Kale & Flax, still hasn’t officially launched. But he has assembled a 2.5-person team and two investors who are active in the business and moved into an office above Please and Thank You in NuLu. Nally is a former senior art director at ad and marketing firm Mightily.
This weekend, as part of Give A Day week, Nally and team will have a 24-hour mini-hackathon at their office alongside some of the kids from Beech Technologies. Beech was founded by teenage residents of Beecher Terrace after they participated in a coding class. The company creates reasonably priced websites.
Their work will be in service to the Mayor’s Office and the Office of Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods’ new initiative “One Love Louisville,” which is focused on reducing overdoses, homicides and suicides in the city.
In other Kale & Flax news, according to Nally, the “non-agency agency” is halfway to its break-even point for the year already, which they’ve achieved without having so much as a website (the website may have launched by the time you read this). — Melissa Chipman
GE launches fridge that automatically refills water pitcher
GE Appliances has launched refrigerators that automatically refill a built-in water pitcher.
“Reaching in the refrigerator only to find that you’ve forgotten to refill the water pitcher is a nuisance of the past,” GE said in a press release.
The Autofill Pitcher has a capacity of 74 fluid ounces and is refilled when placed in its designated spot in the refrigerator. A magnet switch detects when the pitcher is in its spot, and a floating switch detects when the pitcher is full, which stops the water flow.
Almost 60 percent of adults own water filtration products, and most own pitchers, according to GE. More than a third said water filtration products are “too time-consuming to fill.”
The Autofill Pitcher also frees up refrigerator space, GE said, because consumers will no longer have to use bottled water.
U of L asks city to change name of Warnock Street
The University of Louisville Foundation sent a letter and application to Louisville Metro Planning & Design Services requesting that the city change the name of Warnock Street to University Boulevard.
If approved, the name change would only apply to the section of Warnock Street from Crittenden Drive to Brook Street.
“These are exciting times at the University of Louisville with the transformation of the Warnock corridor into the main entrance to the University. With this change, the University needs better recognition of this threshold to U of L,” Smith wrote.
The letter states that the change would demonstrate the importance of higher education to Louisville and let drivers traveling down the road know that they are on U of L’s main campus. It also notes that U of L has 6,000 employees, almost 23,000 students and, along with the state, has invested more than $50 million on Brook, Warnock and Floyd streets.
According to a plan filed with the application, the university may also ask the city to rename Brook Street from Warnock Street to Third Street to University Boulevard in the future.
Brown Hotel renovating rooftop to create luxury venue
The Brown Hotel already is a historic and luxury venue for parties and weddings, but the 92-year-old hotel is expanding into new territory — namely its rooftop.
Sixteen stories up, the new 4,000-square-foot venue will hold up to 400 guests. It features views of the downtown skyline, landscaping and a mint garden.
“With the continued success of our 92-year-old hotel as a prime venue for weddings, banquets and special events, we started looking for options to increase our available space,” general manager Brad Walker said in a news release. “Reopening the storied rooftop seemed like a perfect fit.”
The Brown Hotel hosts more than 40 weddings a year in the Crystal Ballroom and Bluegrass Room but may be able to book more with the outdoor venue. The hotel’s executive chef Josh Bettis also is expected to host dining events there. —Caitlin Bowling
Cornerstone Awards to honor downtown development
The Louisville Downtown Partnership is hosting its annual Cornerstone Awards from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday to honor the developers of projects in the Central Business District.
The developers of any project with $1 million or more in hard construction costs will receive an award. The project must have been completed in 2015.
The recognized developments represent $215 million in investment in downtown Louisville, more than quadruple the investment amount at the 2015 Cornerstone Awards.
“Thanks to many years of hard work on the part of countless stakeholders, Downtown Louisville is experiencing an exciting period of growth in our Central Business District,” Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership.
To register for the Cornerstone Awards cocktail reception, click here. —Caitlin Bowling
Old Louisville Tavern reopening this month
Renovations of the new Old Louisville Tavern are coming along, and the bar and restaurant is expected to reopen at the end of April.
Scott Lukemire, a co-owner of the Old Louisville Tavern, posted an update on Facebook Tuesday.
“The time is here, the tavern will be opening at the end of April and we are looking to hire,” Lukemire wrote. The establishment needs line cooks, prep cooks, bartenders, servers and bussers.
Lukemire did not return calls for comment regarding the bar re-opening, but he told Louisville.com that the new Old Louisville Tavern is bringing back weekly events such as Taco Tuesday, Trivia Night and karaoke night on Thursdays. The bar also will have karaoke on Saturdays and possibly a deejay on Friday nights.
The Old Louisville Tavern closed back in 2014 after an arson fire devastated much of the building. The owners have been working ever since to rebuild, but Lukemire told Louisville.com that the owners had “contracting issues” that slowed the process.
KFC Yum! Center is eighth in the nation — and 22nd in the world — for ticket sales
According to Pollstar Magazine, a concert and venues industry publication, the KFC Yum! Center is ranked eighth in the nation and 22nd in the world for ticket sales by venue, selling more than 100,000 tickets in one quarter. The Yum! Center is owned and operated by AEG Facilities, which is affiliated with 22 of the top 100 arenas worldwide.
Interestingly, the number of tickets sold does not include sporting events or trade shows. The first quarter of 2016, which the report was based on, brought several major events to the Yum! Center, including the busiest week in the arena’s history when the venue hosted six events in seven days, including Blake Shelton and Bruce Springsteen.
“Top-notch talent continues to make the KFC Yum! Center a stop on their tours because not only do fans from Louisville and surrounding cities continue to pack the house, but promoters know they can expect the staff at the KFC Yum! Center to execute every aspect of the show’s production, ticketing and marketing needs with excellence,” said general manager Dennis Petrullo in a press release.
With shows like last weekend’s four Garth Brooks concerts and Justin Bieber next week, it looks like the Yum! Center will keep the house packed. —Sara Havens
Buffalo Trace and Four Roses take top honors at San Francisco World Spirits Competition
A record-breaking 1,899 entries were submitted for a blind tasting at the 16th annual San Francisco World Spirits Competition last month, and Kentucky’s own Buffalo Trace came out on top as the “Best Straight Bourbon.” The judging panel was made up of 39 of the industry’s spirits experts, and it singled out several Kentucky brands throughout the competition.
In the “Best in Show” category, where Buffalo Trace nabbed top spot, Four Roses Distillery also took home some coveted titles, including the Director’s Award of Excellence, “Best Small Batch Bourbon’ and “Best Single Barrel Bourbon.” Proving that quality doesn’t always mean high-end and hard-to-find, all three of these bourbons can be found on most liquor-store shelves.
Buffalo Trace Distillery’s other products also took home some prizes, including Gold winners Eagle Rare, Thomas H. Handy, Blanton’s, Col. E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof and Wheatley Vodka; and Silver winners Stagg Jr. and Hancock’s Reserve Single Barrel.
To browse the full list of winners, click here. —Sara Havens
Major craft beer festival to be held in Louisville this year
The Shelton Brothers Festival, one of the most highly regarded craft beer festivals in America, will be held in Louisville Oct. 28 and 29 this year.
The festival will be held at Copper & Kings after having recently being held in St. Petersburg, Fla., Los Angeles and Portland, Maine. It is regarded highly in part because it brings together world-class brewers, many of whom create special beers, ciders or meads just for the event.
In addition, the Shelton Brothers Festival specializes in small craft breweries from around the world — which means it is unlike standard beer festivals that rely on more widely distributed beers and ciders. Similarly, the festival will attract an international audience.
Tickets are expected to go on sale later this spring. A vendor list hasn’t been posted, but a list of last year’s selections is worth a read. —Kevin Gibson
ZOFI Kombucha selling like hotcakes
Chris Turner of ZOFI Kombucha competed in the 2016 Venture Sharks competition this week. He didn’t make the cut, but we got a few updates on the company we profiled back in December. As Steve Coomes mentioned in a recent restaurant roundup, KOFI is sold at Lucky’s and Whole Foods. They’ve developed partnerships with two distributors: Republic and Spicewood.
So far they’ve moved 5,000 bottles of the shelf-stable kombucha and are expecting 10,000 more next week. Turner said it’s hard keeping up with demand.
Kombucha is a beverage that is said to have many health benefits, but most kombuchas are made with live bacteria and must remain refrigerated at all times. That adds additional costs to distribution and takes up valuable real estate in a business’s cold storage. Turner developed a kombucha that does not have to be refrigerated, making it less expensive to stock and distribute. —Melissa Chipman
Funding campaign started for woman accused of attempted murder
Southern Indiana residents’ belief systems were shaken when news broke that Laura Buckingham, owner of the now-closed Bread and Breakfast in New Albany, was charged with attempted murder.
The successful small-business owner is accused of hiring a hitman — or rather an undercover law enforcement agent posing as one — to kill her ex-husband. A preliminary hearing for the case is scheduled in April, according to a funding campaign on FundRazr.com.
A woman named Janice Weaver is trying to raise $50,000 to fund a defense for Buckingham, who, according to the post, is back in the kitchen trying to sell enough bread to pay for an attorney and other related expenses. The posting doesn’t mention Buckingham’s alleged crime.
“I am asking for her friends, family, past and future customers, and others that may not have had the pleasure to meet Laura but have a common interest or soft spot in their heart for a veteran and small business owner to help Laura now,” the post states.
“Laura Buckingham is very near and dear to our family. We have spent many hours in Bread and Breakfast either eating or helping. Many of you have too,” it continues. “Please donate what you can to help Laura. Your gift will be greatly appreciated.”
Comments posted to the site indicate that at least a few people believe Buckingham was set up and is innocent of the alleged crime. One comment references a statement Buckingham’s ex-husband made on Facebook indicating that he may look to cash in on the alleged attempted murder through book, television or movie deals.
To date, the campaign has raised $170. —Caitlin Bowling