The Closing Bell: Proposed Old Louisville zoning change intended to attract businesses; local startups nab big investments; B-F furloughs workers; 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.

Proposed zoning changes divide Old Louisville residents and business owners

Some believe proposed zoning changes will help draw businesses to Old Louisville. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

Some believe proposed zoning changes will help draw businesses to Old Louisville. | Photo by Caitlin Bowling

The Oak Street commercial corridor running through Old Louisville has failed to live up to its potential as an area retail hub.

To draw new businesses and commercial investment to the corridor, some residents and business owners support the city’s recommendation to rezone some residential properties to C-2, a standard commercial zoning that allows businesses such as bakeries, medical offices, various shops and movie theaters.

Others fear the expansion will encroach too much on the surrounding residential areas and allow businesses that don’t fit the character of the neighborhoods.

For more than a year, Metro Planning and Design Services has worked internally, as well as with residents and businesses, to tweak the current zoning requirements for the Old Louisville-Limerick Traditional Neighborhood Zoning District (TNZD), a special designation aimed at preserving the character of the historic neighborhoods.

The Planning and Design staff’s recommendations include expanding the commercial corridor along Oak Street east to South Seventh Street and west to South Floyd Street. Currently, it stops in the middle of South Sixth and Seventh streets on one end and South First on the other.

The proposed changes also would rezone all properties in the corridor that front Oak Street to C-2. Some have argued the current specialized zoning for the corridor is confusing for developers, which can deter new businesses.

“Developers understand C-2,” said Howard Rosenberg, a longtime Old Louisville resident. “It will make it easier for businesses that want to come into Old Louisville. It doesn’t change the landmark status of these buildings, but it does give some flexibility.”

Rosenberg is chairman of the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council and created an area business task force because, he said, “it seemed that businesses did not have a voice.” Although he serves on both boards, Rosenberg said his opinions are his own and not those of the council or task force, which have not yet taken a stance on the recommendations.

Longtime Old Louisville resident Christopher White, a professor in the University of Louisville’s School of Music, stands on the other side of the argument. While he’s OK with changing the zoning in the commercial corridor, he doesn’t think its boundaries should be expanded.

Mixing commercial and residential too much can negatively impact residents and deter potential homebuyers, he said.

If approved, the city would rezone 53 properties, which are mostly single-family and multi-family residences with some existing commercial mixed in.

However, those affected residential properties could continue to serve as single-family and multi-family homes. The change will simply allow the owner to convert the property into a commercial business, according to information provided by Planning and Design Services.

Expanding the corridor isn’t the answer to drawing quality businesses to Old Louisville, White said, adding that a number of the properties in the area are rundown and attract less than desired businesses, including smoke shops or convenience stores that mainly sell alcohol.

“Some of the property owners have never capitalized their properties,” he said. “It just never has been an area that would attract businesses that would attract my dollars or my husband’s dollars.”

White said he is accustomed to leaving the neighborhood for his shopping needs.

Rosenberg argued the changes will help but agreed that it’s not “a silver bullet.”

“Change is never easy,” he said. “I don’t think anyone on the business side said this is a panacea.”

Reading through submitted comments to the city, residents and business owners seem evenly split on the matter, and when the Planning Commission considers the proposed changes on March 21, plenty of debate is expected. —Caitlin Bowling

Who’s Been Funded: February Edition

seal-on-moneyWell, this month’s gangbusters more than made up for the “January Edition of Who’s Been Funded” on the startup scene. At each month’s Venture Connectors luncheon, Kentucky Innovation Network Director Lisa Bajorina runs down a list of who got money — and precisely no one got funded in January. But what a difference a month makes…

First up, FreshFry, which manufactures and distributes filter pods to commercial kitchens — mainly fast food. Drop a pod in a commercial frier and it goes to work cleaning up the oil and removing impurities that affect the taste of fried food. This extends the life of the oil and saves the business owner a ton of cash. They received $24,000 in investment from the Cherub Fund and KEF. CEO Jeremiah Chapman was a participant in the Vogt Awards in 2014.

Elizabethtown’s ScheduleIt, the organization platform for insurance adjusters, took in $90,000 during the month of February from KEF. This brings their total investment to $1 million. The company went through the final Velocity cohort.

Gill Holland’s Portland Investment Initiative raised $1.1 million last month from private investors and Wilson Muir Bank. Pii buys and renovates buildings in the Portland neighborhood. Holland spoke at the last Venture Connectors Luncheon.

And finally… drumroll please… the big whopper of the month was $47.1 million for Apellis Pharmaceuticals for their series D round. The investment was co-led by new investors Cormorant Asset Management, Hillhouse Capital Group and venBio Global Strategic Fund, joining existing investors Morningside Venture Investments, AJU IB Investment, and Epidarex Capital.

Yeah, they’re in Crestwood, but we’re going to claim them.

The biotech company focuses on developing treatments and therapeutic compounds for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Congrats to CEO Dr. Cedric Francois and team! —Melissa Chipman

El Toro news includes adding 60 new employees within two years

El Toro logoSpeaking of Venture Connectors: At this week’s luncheon, El Toro’s director of sales, Greg Mosley, and president of political campaigns, Marty Meyer, shared some new developments with the IP targeting company. (I noted with pride that in Dayna Neumann’s introduction, she mentioned Sara Havens’ article on how dang cool their office is.)

El Toro (whose CEO Stacy Griggs is in Dubai as we speak) plans to extend to 28 countries in the next year. They couldn’t say where but did say Southeast Asia, South America and the Middle East were the focus.

The company is planning a $2 million expansion and will add 60 employees in the next 18-24 months on top of their 20 current employees.

Fun fact: According to Mosely, not a single employee has ever left El Toro since it was founded in 2003.

They’ve recently taken on Reebok and Adidas as clients. They’re also launching new ad-tech that creepily knows if you’re going to move, when you go into escrow, and when you move into your new digs; the technology targets you with ads that are appropriate to these life changes. It knows within hours when you’ve moved. Hours.

Speaking of moving, they’ll be moving out of their Distillery Commons offices probably by the end of the month. They didn’t say where they were going — we’ve heard Portland — but with a 300-plus bourbon bar in their office, we’ll bet these IP marketing pioneers throw a heck of a ribbon-cutting party.

Mosely said some advice Griggs had given him was “go to work in the dark, go home in the dark.” Mosley said he’d rather be at work than home for a sick day and that he “never stops thinking about El Toro.” And I kind of wanted to stage an intervention. You know that’s not healthy, right, guys? Ever heard of “work-life balance”? —Melissa Chipman

Omni Louisville Hotel names sales and marketing director

Eamon O'Brien | Courtesy of Omni Hotel & Resorts

Eamon O’Brien

Louisville Marriott Downtown’s sales and marketing director Eamon O’Brien is moving across the street to take on the same role at the more than $300 million Omni Louisville Hotel currently under construction.

O’Brien’s duties will include developing and managing sales as well as driving group, catering and business travel revenues, according to a news release. The Omni is set to open in early 2018.

“His exceptional knowledge of the market combined with industry relationships will be invaluable as we drive new business to Louisville,” Mark Wykes, vice president of hotel sales and marketing for Omni Hotels & Resorts, said in the release. “He will be a tremendous asset for our brand, as well as the Omni Louisville Hotel, for years to come.”

Prior to working for Louisville Marriott Downtown, O’Brien also served as director of sales and marketing for the Hyatt Regency Louisville. —Caitlin Bowling

Brown-Forman furloughs production workers

The Brown-Forman corporate headquarters on Dixie Highway.

The Brown-Forman corporate headquarters on Dixie Highway.

Brown-Forman is furloughing 76 production workers for three weeks because of excess inventory the distiller accrued as it prepared for a potential strike.

The labor contract between the Louisville-based company and the Teamsters Local 89 expired Feb. 1, and “difficult negotiations” hinted at a strike, prompting Brown-Forman to build up inventory, spokesman Phil Lynch told IL via email.

Union members twice rejected new contract proposals, but ratified a new five-year contract Feb. 13 by a vote of 114 to 27. The contract includes improved vacation and bereavement benefits, a $1,500 signing bonus, a $15,000 early retirement bonus for some employees and wage increases of 11 percent over the five years, according to the union.

To reduce the excess inventory accrued during the negotiations, the Jack Daniel’s maker is furloughing workers in bottling, shipping and warehousing. Employees were notified Feb. 25, and the furlough is expected to last three weeks.

“We are still operating the distillery with a full workforce, and we’re still putting bourbon in barrels in our warehouse operations, but with fewer employees in the warehousing function during the furlough,” Lynch said.

Fred Zuckerman, president of the local union, could not be reached.

The furlough was first reported by WDRB.

Brown-Forman on Wednesday reported flat third-quarter earnings but lowered its earnings outlook because of the strong dollar and slower-than-expected growth in emerging markets. Boris Ladwig

Two new businesses opening on Baxter

Comic book lovers and gamers, rejoice! Sure sounds like our very own version of nerdy Valhalla is opening this month on Baxter Avenue. Heroes Comic and Gaming will be located in the former site of My Old Kentucky Homebrew at 361 Baxter Ave. The grand opening is March 12.

I’m not a gamer, but this seems like a really big deal. They will have regularly scheduled gaming nights including “Magic: The Gathering” six nights a week.

We’ll hear more about them next week. But in the meantime, check out their website and scheduled events.

Also, Strive Inc. will be opening the Strive Center at 622 Baxter Ave. (rear entrance) on March 19 in a day-long celebration from 2 p.m.-10 p.m. Board of Directors for the organization include local luminaries Elizabeth Cassady, Ray Rizzo, Debbi Rodahaffer, Edie Nixon, and Harry Pickens.

Co-founded by Nina Rodahaffer and Cheyenne Mize, Strive offers “creative wellness education and services.” These include music therapy and wellness workshops.

Events at the grand opening include poetry readings, music, visual arts, food and other activities. For the schedule and more information, check out their website. —Melissa Chipman

ALDI stores now taking credit

aldiPeople who love ALDI looooove ALDI. People who don’t love ALDI are weird. Well, the “nation’s low-price grocery leader” is giving you one more reason to love it: They’ll now take credit cards. Up until now, one of the store’s many quirks was that it only accepted cash or debit cards. Now you can put that cheap cheese and discount fresh produce on credit.

Other quirks include “renting” a shopping cart for a quarter. ALDI charges for shopping bags, so either bring your own or pick up a spare box on the shelves while you’re shopping. Also, ALDI never publishes their store phone numbers because they want their employees to be helpful in the store, not answering phone calls.

In other ALDI news, the company recently completed its removal of added MSG, certified synthetic colors and partially hydrogenated oils from all of its exclusive food brands, which make up 90 percent of the foods ALDI offers.

There are five locations in Kentuckiana. Find your closest one here. —Melissa Chipman

A couple new bourbons hit the market soon

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

First up is Col. E.H. Taylor Jr. Seasoned Wood bourbon that involves quite an interesting seasoning process. The latest product to come out of Buffalo Trace Distillery, this wheated bourbon has been aging in specialty seasoned oak barrels for more than 10 years. It is Bottled-In-Bond, making it 100 proof, small batch and a one-time-only release.

According to a press release, the unique barrels went through all kinds of experiments by Independent Stave Company, who worked with Dr. James Swan, an expert on oak maturation. Some staves were immersed in an enzyme-rich hot water bath and then fired up inside kilns. Others were seasoned outdoors for six months, and some even sat outside for a full year. Needless to say, the bourbon is quite interesting and can stand up to the other seven expressions in the Taylor portfolio. The bourbon should hit store shelves later this month at $69.99 a bottle.

Another new bourbon highlights a decades-old partnership between Maker’s Mark and Keeneland race track in Lexington. The story goes that in 1958, Keeneland purchased the first case of Maker’s ever sold, and now, 58 years later, they’re releasing their own Private Select Maker’s they created through the distillery’s Select Barrel Program (which I witnessed firsthand a few months ago).

This Maker’s Mark Private Select bourbon was finished in a barrel that contained additional oak staves, bringing out even more of that caramel and vanilla goodness that Maker’s is known for. The bourbon will only be available at the track during its Spring Meet, from April 8-29.

One last exciting new announcement in the bourbon world. We hear Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe is finalizing a limited edition Booker’s Rye, which is big news for both Booker’s and rye whiskey fans. He hints that it’ll hit store shelves this summer, and on the label, he says: “Dad always liked the challenge of rye grains. He created a rye whiskey and laid these barrels down in his favorite rackhouse. The first-ever Booker’s Rye Whiskey was born. This is big time all the way and remains robust and uncut, just how my dad liked it.” Can’t wait! —Sara Havens