The Closing Bell: Bridge tolling begins today; 9 businesses get city loans; Rabbit Hole buys church building; Airbnb hosts rake in millions; 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.

Bridge tolling begins at 4 a.m. today

Bridge tolling will begin at 4 a.m. today, and if you haven’t set up your RiverLink account, you’ll likely be paying a higher rate — $4 instead of $2 — for a couple of days.

You’ll also likely incur long wait times if you have questions for RiverLink personnel: Some callers have had to wait for up to an hour to talk to a representative, while at physical locations people have incurred wait times in excess of an hour.

Setting up an account online takes about five minutes — but assigning a transponder number to an account takes up to 48 hours.

RiverLink spokeswoman Mindy Peterson urged motorists to set up their accounts as soon as possible.

“The sooner you open an account, the faster you’re going to be saving money,” she said.

A local transponder is free and will be mailed to people when they set up their prepaid account. People also can use their E-ZPass transponder, which works in 16 states, or buy one for $15.

A transponder is an electronic device that is placed “on the inside of the windshield, as high and as central as possible,” officials said. “Transponders should be placed three inches away from any metal, tint, antenna or defroster.”

Courtesy of RiverLink

Tolling on the Abraham Lincoln Bridge, the Lewis & Clark Bridge (East End Bridge) and the Kennedy Memorial Bridge will work electronically, without toll booths, which means drivers do not have to slow down, but should continue at their normal driving speed, officials said.

People can check online whether their account has been validated and whether a transponder number has been assigned. If so, they will pay the lower toll rate even if they have not yet received the actual transponder.

Peterson told IL Thursday that E-ZPass transponders were sent out last week and should take up to 10 days to arrive. If customers who have ordered those passes do not receive them by the middle to the end of next week, they should contact RiverLink, she said.

She also urged consumers to set up their accounts online — without calling RiverLink — because callers have experienced long wait times. People who have visited RiverLink offices — at 400 E. Main St. in Louisville and 103 Quartermaster Court in Jeffersonville — also have incurred long wait times, sometimes exceeding one hour, she said.

If people have to call or stop by in person, they should do so as early as possible to avoid the longest wait times, she said. The phone line and the offices open at 7 a.m. weekdays and at 8 a.m. Saturdays. People can set up their account online at any time. They’ll need their license plate number.

Officials from Kentucky and Indiana have said the $2.3 billion project will reduce traffic congestion, increase public safety and produce an economic impact of nearly $87 billion over 30 years. The states also expect the tolling revenue to generate a surplus of more than $3 billion through 2054. —Boris Ladwig

Nine small businesses are awarded METCO and microbusiness loans

Louisville Forward has awarded nearly $170,000 in loans to small businesses this month to a diverse set of nine businesses. The businesses run the gamut from tax preparation to T-shirts.

Metropolitan Business Development Corporation awarded the following loans:

  • Two loans were approved for Pointe Havens LLC for its property at 1600 Story Avenue. The loans will allow the owner to improve the facade of the building and make interior improvements to prepare the space for future commercial use. The property is the former home of Gallery K Coffeeshop. Jessica Wethington of Louisville Forward told IL, “The KEOZ is a redevelopment loan specifically targeted for properties that are currently unusable in the state they are in. This building suffered a fire, had to be gutted and now will be renovated.”
    • $53,824 facade loan
    • $40,000 KEOZ loan
  • $34,286 energy efficiency loan was approved for Jackie Green and Cindy Baker for their property at 2833 South 4th Street. The loan will allow the owners to place solar panels on the roof of the building. The addition of solar panels will help reduce energy consumption and lower the energy cost. That building is the Bike Couriers Bike Shop.

The microbusiness loans went to (descriptions provided by Louisville Forward):

  • $15,000 loan to Trimen Solutions LLC (Trimen Career Placement Services) located at 332 West Broadway, Suite 605. The loan will allow the owner, TraShaun Spencer, to expand services and assist with insurance, computer software and marketing.
  • $5,000 loan to Mimi The Tax Lady, a startup offering full tax services, located at 1153 ½ South Second Street. The loan will allow the owner, Tamika Reed, to operate her business with purchase of equipment and computer software.
  • $5,000 loan to Flex Bill LLC, a startup medical billing business privately owned by Roselena McGruder. The loan will help with the purchase of computer software, insurance and inventory for business operations.
  • $5,000 loan to Pure Polish, a startup residential and commercial green cleaning service.  The loan will allow the owner, Andrea Moran, to purchase equipment and inventory.
  • $5,000 loan to Oasis T. Shirts, a startup T-shirt and graphic design business. The loan will help the owner, Orlando Sisney, to purchase supplies, inventory and equipment.
  • $3,000 loan to An Angels Touch, a start-up business in janitorial services. The loan will allow the owner, Bryanna Thomas, to purchase equipment and supplies.
  • $1,500 loan to The Glory Shoppe, which started in 2016 as an Etsy online shop for purchasing handcrafted home decor. This loan will allow the owner, JoAnn Jackson, to purchase supplies. Melissa Chipman

Rabbit Hole Distilling purchases old St. Jude Baptist Church at Jefferson and Clay

The old St. Jude Baptist Church at 707 E. Jefferson St. | Courtesy of Google Maps

Last month, Rabbit Hole Distilling purchased the old St. Jude Missionary Baptist Church building at 707 E. Jefferson St. for $332,000, according to county records.

Rabbit Hole founder Kaveh Zamanian tells Insider the company might use the space as an addition to or expansion of the distillery, now under construction in NuLu between Market and Jefferson streets.

“The opportunity to purchase the building presented itself, and we couldn’t pass it up,” he says. While there is no plan set for the building now, Zamanian says it could possibly be used for office space and staffing. —Sara Havens

Heine Brothers’ Coffee adding new location next year

Heine Brothers’ Coffee is opening a new store in McMahan Plaza. | Courtesy of Jefferson County PVA

Locally owned coffee company Heine Brothers’ Coffee continues to grow in Louisville.

The company moved its headquarters and roastery this year to 1301 W. Main St. in the Portland neighborhood, and now is planning to add a 14th shop in Louisville.

The newest Heine Brothers’ Coffee will open sometime next year a 3,000-square-foot outlot in McMahan Plaza, 3965 Taylorsville Road.

“Heine Brothers’ Coffee is excited to continue to stretch into new parts of Louisville in 2017, including Hikes Point and Portland,” co-owner Mike Mays told Insider Louisville in an email. “We believe strongly that these and other neighborhoods in Louisville where we do not already have a presence are ready to support a Louisville-owned and operated company committed to locally roasted fair trade and organic coffee who is also committed to giving back to and making an impact in our community.”

Mays said the Hikes Point store is still in development and more details will be available in the new year. —Caitlin Bowling

Louisville’s only The Melting Pot restaurant reopens

The Melting Pot is a fondue-focused restaurant. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Melting Pot’s closure was short-lived it turns out.

Tampa-based company Front Burner, which is affiliated with the corporate owner of The Melting Pot Restaurants, swooped in to take over management of The Melting Pot in Louisville.

The fondue restaurant, at 2045 S. Hurstbourne Parkway, reopened on Tuesday. Its hours of operation are 5 to 10 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 5 to 11 p.m. Friday; 1 to 11 p.m. Saturday; and 1 to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

In November, The Melting Pot announced that the store would close indefinitely and put out a call for potential franchisees. However, it seems that the company didn’t want to wait for qualified candidates to come forward and instead decided to reopen the restaurant itself. —Caitlin Bowling

Louisville Airbnb hosts raked in millions in 2016

Louisville residents led the state in terms of Airbnb guests and earnings in 2016, according to the online hospitality company.

Airbnb reported that some 43,000 guests used its website to find lodging at someone’s home while visiting Louisville, and Airbnb hosts earned about $6.2 million by renting out a room or their entire house.

Lexington came in second, with 15,000 guests and $1.8 million in earnings, according to a report from Airbnb.

The state as a whole housed 80,000 Airbnb guests throughout the year, up 139 percent compared with 2015, the company stated. That equals about $10.2 million in revenue for hosts in 2016.

“This comes as Kentucky residents increasingly embrace the home-sharing platform as an opportunity to earn supplemental income and make ends meet,” Airbnb stated.

Currently, Kentucky has about 2,100 hosts, about one-fourth of which only rent out a room in their house rather than their entire home.

The rising popularity of home-rental websites such as Airbnb prompted Louisville to adopt an ordinance regulating the industry. In Louisville, hosts now have to get a permit to rent out their home and pay city taxes on those earnings. —Caitlin Bowling

Here’s when you can watch Mussel & Burger Bar on the Food Network

Fernando Martinez, a partner in Mussel & Burger Bar, will be featured in the Food Network spot. | File Photo

Mussel & Burger Bar previously put out a call for extras to be in the restaurant while the Food Network was filming an episode of its new show “Ginormous Food.”

Now, we know when exactly the Louisville restaurant will be featured. The episode of “Ginormous Food” will air at 8 p.m. on Jan. 6, according to a release from Mussel & Burger Bar, one of Olé Restaurant Group’s six concepts.

“It was fun to see our loyal customers interacting with the crew and host, Josh Denny. We’re excited that America will get to see our Double Southern Bell Burger,” Fernando Martinez, chef and co-founder of the Olé Restaurant Group, said in the release.

Mussel & Burger Bar will host a watch party at the Jeffersontown location, 9200 Taylorsville Road, with drink specials starting at 7 p.m. Customers also will be able to try the Double Southern Bell Burger for themselves. The burger features a pound of black Angus beef, fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese and remoulade sauce on a pretzel bun. —Caitlin Bowling

Switcher Go is praised in USA Today

Courtesy Switcher Studio

USA Today’s Jefferson Graham has added Switcher Go, created by Louisville’s Switcher Studio, to his list of “6 apps that made me say ‘wow’ in 2016.” The app makes it easy to mix video footage from up to four different devices in real time.

Graham writes:

“I love making Facebook Live broadcasts, but let’s face it — my face on the screen for 15 minutes with nothing else to look at can get boring.

“Switcher Go (IOS only) solved that problem by letting us insert up to four video clips during the broadcast, turning the amateur hour into something that looks way more professional. (You just pull four photos or videos from your Camera Roll, and have them ready to switch to during the broadcast.)”

This has been a big year for Switcher. CEO Nick Mattingly won the 2016 Venture Sharks competition in the spring. In June, it was named as one of the 15 official Facebook Live apps. In August, Mattingly traveled to New York City to assist with the latest product introduction of former “America’s Top Model” co-host Jay Manuel, a noted makeup artist.

The company also partnered with BoxCast, a streaming service that specializes in church services. It also closed a seed round of $400,000 in the fall. Melissa Chipman

Local blogs shut down or go silent

It’s pretty quiet in the IL newsroom during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, but there’s still news to be reported. Several local newsy blogs, however, have stopped reporting — either temporarily or permanently — in the last quarter of 2016.

Boulevard, a news site published by former Gannett employee and creator of the Gannett Blog, Jim Hopkins, fell silent in October. Boulevard focused on news from the Top 10 employers in Louisville.

Branden Klayko’s Broken Sidewalk hasn’t published a post since September. Klayko is said to have taken time off due to health issues.

Jake Payne’s ‘Ville Voice disappeared recently. The URL goes straight to a GoDaddy site and the registration expired on Dec. 20. Page One Kentucky, his site that is a Kentucky news roundup, appears to be active, and last published on Dec. 26. Both sites had been around for at least a decade. —Melissa Chipman

Louisville International Airport stays steady on list of busiest cargo airports

The Airports Council International released the list of the Top 10 busiest airports for cargo in the world, and thanks to Louisville’s booming fulfillment and logistics economies, Louisville International Airport ended up holding strong at No. 7 — third in the United States, after Memphis and Anchorage.

Here’s the 2015 list:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Memphis
  3. Shanghai
  4. Anchorage
  5. Incheon, South Korea
  6. Dubai
  7. Louisville
  8. Tokyo
  9. Paris
  10. Frankfort

Anchorage is the only head-scratcher on the list, but the airport is busy because it is a stopover for United States-Asia shipping routes.

Louisville has held the seventh place since 2012. Melissa Chipman