Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Could a Museum Plaza Battle be Brewing?

Museum Plaza, the revolutionary skyscraper that is planned for the Louisville waterfront, got it's first dose of opposition today from an unlikely source - The Convention and Visitors Bureau and various hotel associations across the Commonwealth. At issue is a special funding break that will be granted to the developers of Museum Plaza by the State Legislature.

In a nutshell, this project will be massive. And to help the developers recoup much of their investments in public infrastructure the city crafted a plan to rebate certain taxes - one of them being the hotel room tax. This change must be approved by the state.

Hotel associations are against this change for several reasons - the most glaring reason is because this will divert funds away from their groups. (Hotel rooms taxes help pay for these types of associations) Their stated reason is because this type of action will lead to other developers wanting the same sorts of changes.

Their first reason to opposition is terribly short-sighted. A complex such as Museum Plaza will be a huge draw for the city of Louisville, and will only improve the city's tourist and cultural attractions. This will eventually spur more business for their members.

Their stated reason is also, well, silly in my opinion. If there ever has been a project in Kentucky that has ever needed tax rebates, this may be the best example in decades. This building is everything and more that a city like Louisville could ever wish for. It is multi-use, daring, and awe-inspiring. This is a building that will be noticed worldwide. Chances like this are once in a century.

If there are ever other hotel projects in Kentucky that are massive on a scale like this, I don't see what the problem would be to rebate those projects taxes too into the public infrastructure needs, instead of being diverted to these hotel associations and other uses. But to think that suddenly there is going to be a string of Motel 6's and Comfort Inn's clamoring and gaining tax rebates like this is absurd. Monumental projects deserve special consideration.

On the other end of the spectrum are the developers of this 465 million dollar project saying that if this doesn't pass as is currently planned, then all their dreams and hopes are dashed and they will cancel the project - that's hogwash. They're trying to get the absolute best deal possible for themselves. The Visitors Bureau threw down the gauntlet and the MP developers threw up the scare tactics.

When this little debate get to the State Legislature I would put my chips with Museum Plaza. You've got the Jefferson County members for it, the mayor, and the governor. Not to mention some of Kentucky's richest citizens. This will either pass to the benefit of MP or a quiet compromise will be reached and we'll be left scratching our heads as to why this even was an issue.

The Visitors Bureau does not want to see this project disappear and the developers are not going to make this issue the ball buster they want you to think it is. MP will get what it wants, or at the very least, a compromise they're willing to live with, and Louisville will get this landmark.

But for goodness sake, can you keep the squabbling to a minimum?

Shake-up on Fourth Street

A legal battle has been brewing for the last several months at the popular downtown Fourth Street Live complex. Three clubs which are original to the project have been given notices of eviction by the Baltimore based Cordish Company for being behind in their rent to the tune of over 250,000 dollars.

The three clubs in question are located on the second level of the complex and due to an extra admission fee have said that they've lost over half of their business. They point to other establishments in the complex that are not forced to charge an admission fee and see this as a bias against them. In spite of order of eviction and the back rent, the clubs owners say they plan to fight it in court.

Cordish has already announced a replacement to take all of the space that these clubs are supposed to vacate. Besides this legal battle, Fourth Street Live recently endured the closing of the Fashion Shop retail store due to a company reorganization.

Fourth Street Live had over 4 million visitors last year and was one of the state's largest tourist draws. Cordish, which has long promised an expansion, also has dropped hints of them acquiring land at the nearby Water Company block. After they pulled out of the JCPenney Building last year, it seemed that their plans for expansion in Louisville had died. However, the mayor has been hinting for months now that major developers were interested in the Water Company site, and it appears Cordish is one of the suitors. If they do buy the land, lets hope they build something a little more unique...while Fourth Street Live is a great draw for downtown, it definitely could use a more unique and local flavor.

Monday, January 29, 2007

New Louisville Jobs

Well, I myself have started a new job, and it has taken away much of my computer time - hence the delay since my last post and the short post tonight. Despite the short post today, there have been some good job releases recently in Louisville.

Geek Squad to add 350 more positions
Best Buys announced it was amending it's plans for the Geek Squad City facility in Bullitt County. Six months ago Geek Squad City opened with plans for 500 full time employees, but now Best Buy will add 350 more positions for a total of 850 computer "geek" repairmen. When the facility was originally announced, the state of Kentucky offered over 10 million dollars in tax rebates. Louisville was eventually chosen due to the proximity of UPS WorldHub and the their ability to get computers in and out several days faster due to UPS.

California Printer to add 20 more jobs to West End location
Print Fulfillment Services, formerly, which opened up a large facility in the economically stagnant West End last year, is preparing to add 20 more positions and invest nearly 2 million more dollars in their facility. Last year when their facility was under construction they made it clear they wanted to get as many local West End residents as possible in their operation. They want to continue that commitment with this newest expansion.

West End Indoor Recycling Center brings 20 positions, perhaps more
Last week a group of local investors submitted plans for a 5 million dollar indoor recycling facility in the West End. The facility plans to hire for 20 positions initially, with growth plans of up to 80 more positions. The group has made it known they want to try and also provide the bulk of their positions to locals of the West End.

PharMerica to add 200 HQ jobs
Louisville scored a coup with the gain of PharMerica to the local corporate scene. The HQ will initially have up to 300 positions, with 100 positions already being filled by Louisvillians. With salaries of over 77,000$ a year, that's nothing to turn your nose up to in Louisville.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Top 100 for Young People

Take it for what it's worth, but Louisville was again ranked as one of America's Best Communities for Young People. The ranking was largely based on the highly successful Every 1 Reads program which aims to brings all studetns to or above their grade reading level by 2008. And with over 6,000 volunteers, they're well on their way to acheieving that goal.

Another reason is GE's generous gift of 25 million dollars for the JCPS district to find ways to improve math and science scores.

Let's hope this programs continue to help Louisville students discover the values of education.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Decade of Progress?

KentuckianaWorks, the local workforce development group, released fresh educational attainment data for Louisville today from the year 2005. The group released data on key measures of the "educational activity" in the Louisville Metropolitan Area and gives us a ranking in comparison to 16 other regional cities.


In the year 2000 the city and KentuckianaWorks set out on a mission to markedly improve Louisville's standing in comparison to other regional cities by the year 2010. Since 2002 they have been providing a yearly scorecard of the results, and certain trends have certainly come to light.

The Good News:

Louisville is definitely not stagnant in the numbers of people who are being better educated. In fact, Jefferson County has now surpassed the national average of people holding at least a bachelors degree, at nearly 28%.

When compared to the other 16 metro areas, the incredibly important 25-34 age sub-group has the 5th highest High School graduation rate, the 2nd highest rate of college attendance and Associate Degrees, and ranked 12th in Bachelors Degrees. These are all improvements from 2000.

In 2005 Louisville institutions awarded nearly 4,000 bachelors degrees - a 32 percent increase in 10 years.

Louisville now ranks 7th in the total number of post-secondary degrees awarded (Bachelors, Masters, Professional degrees, Doctorates, Associates, and specialized certificates) - up from 12th only 5 years ago.

There are 9,500 more students in Louisville area colleges in 2005 than there were in 2000. To compare, in 1990 there were 50,642 students enrolled in Louisville colleges and in 2000 there were 51,462. In 2005 there were 60,998. In five years there was an 18 percent total increase, much of it thanks to UofL, Jefferson County Community Colleges, Spencerian College, and Sullivan University.

The Bad News

Despite the increases in educational attainment, it was still not enough to push Louisville ahead in all current rankings.

In the number of Bachelors degrees conferred - 3,900 - only two cities, Birmingham and Memphis, conferred fewer. (Jacksonville was only ahead of Louisville by fewer than 70)

In the overall ranking of the entire population, Louisville was dead last in percent of the population with a bachelors degree. The Louisville MSA percentage total was 23.3%. Our nearest competitor, which is the Memphis MSA at 23.7%, is now within the statistical margin of error.

This news, along with lots of other tidbits that one could glean from this report, and other like it, show a definite trend in Louisville. It is growing more educated, and a sightly faster rate than average. Louisville is gaining ground on its regional competitors.

Louisville has a very high number of people who have attended college, yet do not finish. This is a problem for area colleges that is slowly being corrected. University of Louisville is at critical point in it's history. The school's mandate is to become a top 20 urban university, and to achieve that goal they are implementing many new programs, including initiatives to retain and graduate more of it's students. It is slowly having an effect, and we can see those results in the numbers from our younger citizens achievement.

In regards to education, Louisville has had an elephant it has been trying to eat - but you know how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And Louisville has finally started doing that.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Museum Plaza Updated

On Monday, January 22, the developers, architects, and collaborators of the skyline-altering Museum Plaza unveiled some new details about the 465 million dollar project.

Here is your "Cliff Notes" version of the project:

-62 stories on the block bounded by 7th on the east, 8th on the west, Main to the south, and River to the north.

- 703 feet tall, 1.5 million square feet of total space

-Underground parking with 800 spots

-246 room Westin Hotel with a ballroom, spa, restaurant

-Public "Art Hall" for constantly changing art exhibits, UofL Master of Fine Arts Program, Several Art Galleries

-99 Condos, 117 Studio-Lofts

-New public space at ground level with connection to Muhammad Ali Center, recreation of Fort Nelson Park, demolition of electric tower, picnic spaces, sports playing fields

-Official groundbreaking is now expected to happen in May or June

The most recent update did not provide a whole lot of new details, but did give a more clear vision of how the building will be integrated into the surrounding environment. The public plaza at ground level is being designed by the Dutch firm West 8. They will create a seamless connection to the Ali Center to the east and complete the first step needed to start a west downtown renaissance with the complete "redo" of Fort Nelson Park and it's connection to the community.

This project is incredibly exciting, and is perhaps the boldest project to be proposed in the South/Midwest (outside Chicago) in decades. It is one of the largest urban projects in the US in recent history and I cannot say how proud I am to have this built in Louisville.

Monday, January 22, 2007

News from New Albany, Indiana

There were 2 good stories today about development in New Albany.

First, Purdue University gave some updates as to their plans for a beefed up presence in Southern Indiana. Purdue will open in 2008 it's third large scale business incubator center off of Charlestown Road at I-265. The New Albany center will be a copy of the university's current centers in West Lafayette and Merrillville.

The West Lafayette center has been helping businesses for well over a decade, whereas the Merrillville center has only been open for 2 years. The Merrillville center currently has around 20 businesses, and another 20 have "graduated" and no longer need assistance from Purdue. The New Albany center will be a great way to nurture new high-tech industries in Floyd County - something the Southern Indiana suburbs need desperately.

Along with their new incubator they are also expanding their degree offerings at the Indiana Southeast campus. They will offer several new bachelors degrees in engineering programs and technology programs. They also are planning for a future in which the IUS campus will have a building devoted solely to Purdue programs. This is great news for a region that is in need of as many degree options as possible. This is yet another indicator of the growing emphasis of education in the region.

The other story was a simple update of the Scribner Place project in downtown New Albany. The project, which includes a YMCA and indoor aquatics center, is seen as the spark that downtown needs to finally turn the corner and begin to revitalize. Downtown New Albany was virtually deserted in the past decades, but business has slowly been coming back. The downtown theatre was renovated in 2005 and open air cafes are popping up. But there is still a lack of mass and activity downtown on most given days. Scribner Place will help push the downtown forward, give the community a new "jewel" for downtown which will be widely used on weekday and during the weekends.

Southern Indiana has not been seen as the viable suburb that it is. These projects will help the community project a new image and be seen as the great area it is beoming.

PharMerica chooses Louisville

PharMerica, the new company formed by a merger between the Kindred Healthcare Pharmacy Division and a major Florida competitor, has picked Louisville over Tampa for it's new corporate headquarters. The headquarters, which will provide employment for upwards of 350 people, has yet to decide on a location within the city.

Currently, the pharmacy division of Kindred Healthcare has 100 employees in downtown Louisville, and to that total another 250 positions could be added in the new company. In October 2006, when Louisville offered the new company 8 million dollars in incentives, it was forecast that the company would need 75,000 square feet of new office space and they would have a payroll of 15.5 million dollars a year for 200 new employees. That would lead to a hefty 77,500 dollar average salary for each of those new jobs.

The company is expected to have revenues of around 1.9 billion dollars in it's first year of operation, making it the 825th largest public company in America according to the Fortune 1000 list.

This news is incredibly good for Louisville. These are the types of high-paying, office jobs that cities will often compete over. In their decision to locate in Louisville, several reasons were stated: good infrastructure, good incentives, and the nearby location of Kindred Healthcare, which will help PharMerica with technology and administrative support.

Rumors from last week said they had already picked Louisville and they were looking at space out in the suburbs, and had later backed out of a deal with a new suburban office building. Here is to hoping that the new PharMerica Corporation will join the growing list of companies that call downtown Louisville home. (And help drive the 9% vacancy rate even lower!)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Museum Plaza Updates TOMORROW

Museum Plaza - the most exciting development in Lousville in the past half century - will be hosting a forum and update tomorrow morning at 1030 EST.

Until then, here is a rendering from REX Architects.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Louisville's Bridge Woes

In the latest installment of the drama-mystery series, The Ohio River Bridges Project, it was announced that the total cost of the project will soar to a staggering 3.9 BILLION dollars. The 60 percent jump in the price tag come from new inflation corrections to the previous estimate of a modest 2.5 billion dollars.

This latest news, which was originally announced in December 2006, has caused many Kentucky lawmakers to recoil from their stated support of the multi-state, multi-decade project. In the most current 6 year road plan, Kentucky has promised nearly 800 million dollars to the project, but that could be slashed in the 2008 Legislative Session if compromise and different funding measures cannot be worked out.

Several new theories are being floated around for alternative funding - and one of the most basic ways would be to make the new bridge in the East End a toll bridge. However, that option was thrown out early on as studies indicated that a toll bridge would slow traffic greatly and toll proceeds would not meet outlays due to decreased numbers of people who would be willing to drive across a pay-per-use bridge. This option though is getting at least a temporary reprieve as analysts will look for new ways to squeeze a penny out of a dry sponge.

If tolls prove to be unsavory, then what about a TIF district? That is actually a new proposal that hadn't been widely discussed earlier in the project. But if that were an option, where would it go? Would the state be able to capture taxes from predominantly residential Prospect? Or would the TIF grow huge and also encompass nearby commercial districts? Who knows? No one right now, but at least the option is on the table.

What about a public-private partnership? I don't even know what this would entail. The only way I can see a private company making money from a venture like this is tolls, and we already know that leaders are quite averse to using that funding line. Unless we can name the bridge the McDO Bridge of DOOM!!! with plasma screens bedecking the whole thing advertising Big Macs and milkshakes, I dunno how a private partnership would work. Someone with more knowledge on this option should leave a comment.

In today's Courier-Journal, there was a mention of funding with the help of developers. The story said that, for example, let developers build hotels as a part of the project. I suppose they mean that the new taxes from these hotels could partially help the defray the cost of the bridges - but since when will these new bridges require new hotels to be built? This option also needs more explaining.

Now, the total cost of the project is right on the cusp of 4 billion dollars if, and only if, it is completed in 2023. We can still reduce the time needed, accelerate the process, and get it built at the original 2.5 billion dollar mark...or at least that is what we're being told. And I have to say that while I dunno if the project would cost only 2.5 billion dollars, I do bet it would cost less than 4 billion dollars if Kentucky would pull it's head out of it's behind and push forward.

Mitch Daniels(R), the governor of Indiana, promised to fully fund the Indiana portion of the project (approximately 1/3) with money he got from Indiana's Major Moves initiative. He even went to Kentucky to ask them to fully fund their portion of the bill and get this project built 10 years ahead of schedule. Daniels made the argument that waiting is only costing both states more money and costing both states jobs. Daniels has been very wise to extol the economic possibilities of Clark County, and the Indiana suburbs of Louisville, and sees the area as one of Indiana's brightest spots for development. The Indiana suburbs, with a population of over 265,000, are comparable to other Indiana cities such as Lafayette, Evansville, and South Bend. The area is even larger than Terre Haute or Kokomo...and most Hoosiers don't realize so many people live in the Southern Indiana suburbs...but Mitch Daniels does.

Now, some people may wonder how Daniels found his needed 900 million dollars, or so, for the Indiana side of these new bridges. He made a bold and daring gamble - he sold the Indiana Toll Road in Northern Indiana to a private firm and raked in BILLIONS of dollars for other state projects. With his money he will fund I-69 from Indianapolis to Evansville, building the bridges to Louisville, completely overhaul US 31 from Carmel to South Bend, and complete the Hoosier Heartland Highway from Lafayette to Fort Wayne...along with hundreds of smaller state needs.

Now, I look at that and wonder, how can Kentucky do the same thing? The problem is, that while Kentucky has several toll highways, none of them a very highly used, and the current trend in the Fletcher administration has been to turn toll roads into freeways. Sadly, all of Kentucky's major highways are freeways, and you can't simple sell a freeway to a private company to make it into a tollway. So a Mitch Daniels-style selling of Kentucky roads looks slim-to-none.


While this is currently a big brouhaha in political circles, it is my feeling that these bridges will be completed. John Yamuth, while an idealistic supporter of 8664, also knows the realities that it won't happen. He also wants to get this project done sooner than later. The costs will escalate as time goes by, and the political will also continue to ebb away from all those involved. I think that prior to the 2008 Legislative session, you'll see a slew of new funding sources, and a faster timetable proposed. While I certainly have doubts about this project being completed, I also know that there will be lots of very important people behind the scenes finding the cash needed.

Let's hope they do. Louisville needs these new bridges and Spaghetti Junction redo.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

B&W Tower's new Tenant

Wednesday it was announced that Smoothstone, one of Louisville's fastest growing private companies, will abandon it's corporate headquarters along West Main Street for larger digs in the Brown & Williamson Tower. They will take the first two floors of the tower as well as space located in Fourth Street Live which was originally slated for a fitness club. That club later declared bankruptcy and was never opened. The space in Fourth Street Live has been vacant ever since the opening in 2004.

The B&W Tower, which was largely vacated by the tobacco giant in 2004 after a merger with North Carolina based R J Reynolds Tobacco Company, has seen it's floor fill up this past year. In fact, nearly 65% of the space that was ;eft by B&W has now been absorbed. In 2006 Atria Senior Living also committed to taking the top five floors, or nearly 75,000 square feet of space, after leaving the Hilliard Lyons Centre. Hilliard Lyons moved to the PNC Plaza in late 2006, and now the building bearing their name is seen as a residential/retail rehab opportunity.

Smoothstone, a communications company, reportedly also scouted for space in Atlanta and Chicago before being offered tax incentives to stay and expand in Louisville. Under their current plan they will increase their number of employees from the current 50 to 125. Pay will be in the range of 75,000 to 150,000 dollars per year.

In a fairly mediocre economy, it is good to see a local company expand and create dozens of good paying jobs - which is something Louisville needs desperately.

Louisville's New Airline

On Tuesday it was announced that Frontier Airlines would soon begin non-stop service from Louisville to Denver, Colorado. This announcemen was the culmination of several years of work on the part of Mayor Abramson and SDF officials. This will be the flight non-stop flight to Denver from Louisville and represents yet another win for the local business community. Flight will begin in April and will run at very competative rates.

Now if only we could non-stop service to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Monday, January 15, 2007

No I-64 Widening

The Cochran Tunnel, which was recently named an "exceptionally significant" feature of the United State interstate system, could put any future plans to expand I-64 on ice. The designation, one of only three for the entire state of Kentucky, makes it close to impossible to alter the tunnels for an expansion project. I-64 is currently being studied for just such an expansion.

The Louisville interstate system is somewhat strange when it passes through the East End. I-64 and I-71 are still both only 2 lanes in each direction. This alignment creates a pastoral setting for both interstates, but more notably, on I-64. I-64 passes through Cherokee Park and the road is shielded from neighboring buildings by a thick layer of trees, shrubs, and tall natural rock walls. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful stretches of urban interstate in the US, as there are only a handful of places with similar settings. (Another road that comes to mind is the parkway between Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. I do wish I could remember it's designation!)

Due to an increasing population in Eastern Jefferson County and beyond, the state has been trying to identify ways to expand capacity for the future. The state has been studying both I-71 and I-64 for expansions, but has not yet come with any firm plans. Currently, congestion along I-64 is restricted to west of the Cochran Tunnels, and that congestion is only exacerbated by a poorly designed set of interchanges leading to Spaghetti Junction.

To me, the most sensible solution is to expand I-71, for several reasons. First, I-71 leads directly into Oldham County, which is where most of the new suburban growth is taking place. It also has a much smaller interchange with the Watterson and Snyder, which could, and need to be, expanded. Second, I-71 has no interchanges between the Watterson and the Snyder. During an expansion project the state could add new interchanges to I-71, making it easier for residents to use the interstate. Third, the logistics of an I-71 expansion are much more simple - There are no tunnels to work around and the settings, while nice, could have an expanded road without changing the character.

However, due to NIMBY'ism, these projects are slow to take shape and have a lot of political hurdles to cross. Eventually, SOMETHING will have to be expanded, or light rail built, or express bus lines....something! But for now, the traffic is still pretty light, and the East Enders will fight the project until the bitter end.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Fourth Street to pick up new Condos

For the last few weeks in downtown Louisville we have seen a banner at the old Byck's retail building next to the Seelbach stating the building will soon be home to condos. In today's Courier-Journal there was an update/official story about the developers plans.

The basics of the projects were announced as follows:

The units will be located in two historic buildings along South Fourth - The Byck's Building and the adjoining "Tiff's Music" Building; both buildings have been abandoned for over two decades.

There are a total of 15 units in the 2 buildings, ranging in price from 105,000 to 600,000 dollars. 8 units have been pre-sold and secured.

While the main developer has a record of unfulfilled promises in other developments, work has already begun on Byck's Lofts and private bank financing has also been secured. This project is an important development in the rebirth of the Fourth Street corridor. Until this date, we have only had small boutique style retail and lunch restaurants return to Fourth Street. While this is a huge improvement from only 5 years ago, it still hasn't been enough. Especially at night Fourth Street is a kind of creepy road. There are too many "missing teeth" along the building wall and not enough people on the street. This project rehabs two major problem buildings for the road, as well as brings a permanent population to the street.

After Fourth Street Live was completed two years ago we expected to see Fourth Street blossom back to life - but it hasn't really happened yet. The promised expansion of Fourth Street Live by Cordish fell through, Walgreen's vacated their corner building at Fourth and Chestnut, and the road needs a complete street scape makeover. (The trees have to go! They're too big and ruin your views of the buildings) We expected residential projects to immediately follow and the the empty lot next to the Seelbach to be filled in and the empty lot at Fourth and Chestnut to get a hotel. (Still rumored)

The news for Fourth Street in the last twelve months however has been encouraging. A new Japanese restaurant has been announced near the Palace Theatre which will rehab another boarded up building, there have been a few new lunch places open, retail establishment keep being opened, and now a residential project is underway. While the rebirth has been slower than we had all expected, at least it has started.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

West Main Anchor to Expand

One of the "pioneers" of the West Main renaissance is getting a little bigger thanks to the City of Louisville. It was announced today that a deal had been struck to add a 37,000 square foot building along historic West Main to the Louisville Science Center.

The city has agreed to buy the historic Alexander building at 745 West Main for a cool 2 million dollars from a local holding company. The building currently houses city offices and the city has been paying nearly 250,000 dollars a year in rent. But with this acquisition, the Louisville Science Center will finally have more space to grow.

Preliminary plans call for a 1 million dollar renovation of the first floor into student classrooms. This will give the center, which hosts thousands of students each year, the ability to build state of art facilities and replace rooms where they had been using folding chairs and tables for labs. The remaining parts of the building do not yet have plans, however the Science Center will soon begin brainstorming the possible uses and how to raise the money needed to further along more renovations.

The Science Center was the first major attraction to be placed along West Main in the 1970's. In that time period, West Main was nothing more than a street of deserted and boarded up buildings. The Science Center, which then was called The Museum of Natural History, truly was the beginning of the rebirth of this amazingly architecturally rich section of town. Without knowing what their investment would mean to future generations of Louisvillians, the leaders of that time took a chance on a desolate swath of the city. The gamble certainly paid off.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

An Institution Closes

It was announced today that Kunz's Restaurant at Fourth and Market has closed it's door for the last time. A restaurant bearing that name was first opened well over a century ago, and the restaurant had been run for four generations of Kunz family members. The restaurant has experienced several years of declining sales and has been in bankruptcy court since last year.

Kunz's is definitely a name that is surprising to lose downtown - it has been an institution for longer than any Louisvillian has been alive. Sadly though, that tradition and their reputation are the only things that has kept the restaurant afloat for the last several years. The restaurant is a dark enclave and 20 years behind in decor. The food has lost much of its quality and the service standards have also been low.

Downtown in the past several years has picked up several new upscale restaurants - All of which have better food and service than Kunz's. The new competition reacted to the new market and Kunz's simply has not. Kunz's has hoped that it's name and history would carry it through, and it hasn't. Sad, but time marches on.

I just hope their corner is remodeled and something better takes its place!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Kentucky has a surplus?

It was recently reported that the state government in Frankfort has a 270 million dollar surplus this fiscal season. And having an extra 270 million dollars lying (or is it laying? O, the grammar!) around the capitol building ain't half bad. The trouble is, when your coffers are suddenly full of extra cash, state legislators have a hard time not immediately spending the dough (Often times on pet projects and waste).

Rewind to April 2006 when Governor Ernie Fletcher (R) vetoed hundreds of millions of dollars worth of projects from the Kentucky budget so that he could save the states precarious bond rating. In cutting these projects the governor wanted to show the people who control the money in New York that Kentucky could get serious about cutting out the BS. And to be honest, he cut mostly uesless projects - Dorm renovations at the University of Louisville, a new indoor practice facility for Coach Petino (Can they not just use their soon to be built 450 million dollar downtown facilty?), extra cash for the Louisville Zoo's new Glacier Run project, delayed money for a new dental research building in downtown Louisville, plus other generally pointless projects in other regions of Kentucky.

We now find ourselves in January 2007 and all of these projects are about to be refunded in this legislative session. Does Kentucky have any sense of what is important and what isn't? The Louisville Zoo already stated that even without the extra 6 million from the state their project would go forward, the University of Louisville bonded for themselves the money for several of their vetoed projects, and the University of Kentucky in Lexington also is moving ahead with their few projects that the state vetoed in April.

Kentucky is currently sitting on several huge time bombs. One of which is the Louisville infrastructure needs of Spagetti Junction and the bridges; Northern Kentucky is also in dire need of new span to Cincinnati. Besides even those huge liabilities, the state has an underfunded public pension system, underfunded education, and underfunded healthcare systems. We're talking BILLIONS upon BILLIONS of dollars! Instead we've got places like Campellsville that is crying out for a new golf course and lodge at Green River Lake, or western Kentucky wanting yet another highway to nowhere.

This 270 million dollars is already gone, being used to refund all the pet projects from the last legislative cycle. But when will Kentucky wake up and see that we are wasting our money year after year and never getting a return on our investments?

Monday, January 08, 2007

Louisville's Artspace

A group of leading downtown Louisville businessmen announced today that they will be donating a 10 story office building along Broadway to Louisville's Fund for the Arts. The Fund, which has been in negotiations with these business leaders for several months, will use the building to house several local arts groups, as well as create an incubator setting for emerging artists and groups in the city.

The project will eventually cost upwards of 7 million dollars and will rehab an underused building at 321 W Broadway, directly adjoining the W. L. Lyons Brown Theatre. The building will immediately become the home of Louisville's troubled orchestra and the Kentucky Opera. Other groups are expected to join them at later dates. By housing several arts group in a single location, many administrative functions will be shared, saving the groups several hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Also being added to this ambitious arts project is a residential component. The ninth and tenth floors are going to be rehabbed and sold as market rate housing. It will include 10 condominiums that range in price from 180,000 dollars to 300,000 dollars and will range from 1000 square feet to 1400 square feet. The projects will be known as the Lofts at Artspace. This is yet another example of how downtown is adding more and more "mixed-use" projects. What is exciting about this is how this project is being developed in a part of downtown that is not currently considered "hot" like the East Main corridor. It shows the slow expansion of the downtown resurgence.

In conjunction with this project, the Brown Theatre which is directly connected to the Artspace Building is also undergoing a huge renovation in which a new 3 story lobby, pedestrian walkways to the Brown Hotel, improved acoustics, and several other smaller additions are being completed.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Northup for Governor?

Anne Northup is reportedly mulling over a bid to unseat Kentucky governor Ernie Fletcher in the next gubernatorial election. Northup, a Louisville republican, was recently unseated as the representative of the Democratic leaning 3rd district of Kentucky in the US House of Representatives. Northup had occupied the seat for a decade, first winning election in November 1996. However, her political career has spanned 3 separate decades, as she started her political involvement in 1980 as a volunteer for Ronald Reagan's campaign and was a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1987 to 1997.

Before Anne can even be put on the general ballot come November, she must outmaneuver the politically vulnerable Ernie Fletcher (and others) in the Republican primary. Fletcher has been at the center of several scandals since taking the oath of office. Fletcher made a promise to clean up Frankfort after the disastrous tenure of Democratic governor Paul Patton, however, Frankfort seems as dirty as ever. Fletcher is accused of undermining the merit job system in which state jobs are awarded based on "merit" not political affiliation.

It is my personal opinion that Ernie Fletcher is not a bad man or even a stupid man; he simply surrounded himself with bad people. Many of the allegations around Governor Fletcher include several of his "right hand men" and much of their unbecoming behavior. Fletcher, however, magnified the scrutiny of his office when he gave a blanket pardon of all offenders in his administration. Currently, the head of Kentucky Republican politics, Mitch McConnell, won't even endorse the governor for a second term; things are that bad for Ernie.

In swoops Anne Northup, fresh off a major defeat, but as strong willed as ever. This is a woman who is tough as nails, but also a very classy individual. Anne had a tough 2006, to say the very least, as she lost a son in the summer to a heart defect and lost an election in November. I would have thought she would have gone into private life, if even only for a short while, to reflect on the year that was 2006. I was however surprised to see her face plastered across national television debate programs this week and now she is considering the governorship: I say do it. I didn't vote in Kentucky's 3rd District in November, (I was registered in Indiana's 9th, go Baron Hill!) however if I had been there, I would have pulled the lever for Democrat John Yamuth. Even with that disclosure, I had respect for Anne Northup and her many contributions to Louisville. She is bright, hard nosed, and hard hitting for Louisville. But in this election, things were really stacked against her, especially since she had too strongly allied herself with neoconservative national politics.

I have to say I am biased toward Anne Northup becoming governor because what she could do for Louisville, but also because I feel she is woman who could possibly give Frankfort an atmosphere of respect and accountability. Scandal after scandal have fallen on the laps of the people of Kentucky, and it really is time for the people to get someone who will uphold the basic ideals of the Commonwealth.

The Democratic party in Kentucky is in shambles. The only two viable options are Louisville mayor Jerry Abramson, and Lexington's US Representative, Ben Chandler. Both men have made it known they will not be seeking the governorship. Dan Mongiardo , the Democratic doctor from Eastern Kentucky who was narrowly defeated for US Senate in 2004, has thrown his hat in the gubernatioral ring. However, how long will it be before his impending marriage to a 21 year old college student when he is pushing 50, becomes politcal? Lets be honest...while age may not matter to him and his fiance, it looks questionable to the majority of Kentuckians (me included). The last thing Kentuckians want to do is vote for a man who is seen as a letcher, even if he has good politcal ideas.

So to close, I hope to see Anne Northup take a swing at the governorship. And even if she doesn't bite this time around, I think you'll be seeing her name again someday in the future.

Best of luck, Anne.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Few Random Stories from the River City

Today, like all this week, has been an incredibly slow news day in Louisville. But in spite of that, there were a few small stories that caught my attention.

Firstly, the city of Jeffersonville, Indiana is yet again contemplating selling land at the corner of 10th and Spring Streets directly off of Interstate 65. For those of you who don't know, this piece of land is a "gateway" into Jeffersonville and for many years has been in legal limbo. Several years ago Jeffersonville tried to sell the land to retail developers; that fell through. Then they had an AmeriSuites hotel prepared to build on the site; this time they were sued by a private citizen and that deal never came to being. Now, for a third time the city has two developers on the line, one of whom wants to build a Starbucks.

Now, the reason this story even caught my attention was because I once lived in Clark County and the piece of land in question has been an eyesore for as long as I can remember. That area is also a hodge podge of uses: industrial, retail, even some historic structures such as the newly renovated Quartermaster Depot and an older inner ring suburban neighborhood.

What really confuses me is the way Jeffersonville has, all these years, only tried to get the easiest types of developments possible for an important property in the city. To be incredibly honest, Starbucks can be built almost anywhere in Southern Indiana and do perfectly well...there are Starbucks in towns much smaller than Jeffersonville. But Hoosiers have a fascination with saying, "Look! We have ___________ too! We're just as good as Louisville!" Instead of promoting a project to compliment and enhance the urban nature of 10th and Spring, they're simply going to fill it with Starbucks and McDo. Jeffersonville surely has arrived!

Secondly, Baptist Hospital East will ban smoking on all of their property in St. Matthews. Sometimes I think that only in a place like Kentucky could it still be possible in 2007 to smoke around a hospital. Smoking has been banned inside the hospital for quite some time, but I do expect hospitals to show more leadership on health issues such as this. It is how I think having a McDonald's in Kosair Children's Hospital downtown is a bad choice. I don't think that McDo or smoking should be outlawed...but hospitals shouldn't be the place where these things are eaten or inhaled.

Third and last story is the slow way in which MetroSafe is being completed. MetroSafe is one of the mayors major initiatives from his first term in office when he was concentrating on finalizing all merger problems. MetroSafe, when completed, will finally give all first responders, from paramedics to firefights to police officers to disaster workers, all the same radios and the ability to speak to each other all across the county. This will be in the first time in the history of Jefferson County that there will be a seamless communications systems for all agencies in charge of public safety. To say the least, this is an important project for the community!

You can't blame the mayor for this latest setback, but Louisville was dropped from a federal program that grants money to urban areas for terrorism response. Granted, Louisville is not a huge target for terrorists, but this system could one day prove lifesaving to many of the 700,000 people who call Jefferson County home.

This initiative has been fermenting for four years now. As a total cost, it is 70 million dollars...which is about how much the city is prepared to give the developers of Museum Plaza or how much they spent to have the Marriott hotel built. The city simply needs to get this project completed for the good of all Louisvillians.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Fairgrounds Renovations on target

So, for the first time in half a century, the South Wing of the Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center is getting a facelift. And quite a massive one. The entire 215,000 square foot structure was razed last year to make way for a new and improved South Wing with 27 foot high ceilings and only 9 interior columns. And for a city that depends on the business this massive facilty brings in, it's not a moment too soon.

Because of this massive new retrofit, and an addition of nearly 200,000 square feet of new space that came online last Fall, several shows that were looking to leave Louisville are now renewing their agreements. We've even already picked up a massive new show from Nashville, The Pumper and Cleaner Expo International. While it certainly isn't a glitzy affair (they do sell septic products after all!) it will draw 75,000 visitors to Louisville with an impact of over 15 million dollars. Good news for a center that isn't even finished until late Fall 2007.

After this expansion is completed the Fair Board still has several projects on the docket to be completed before the decade rolls over; a new 600 room full service hotel is in the works as well as a new outdoor amphitheatre to lure in new concerts to the city. The hotel is expected to cost upwards of 100 million dollars, most of which will be paid for through bonds issued by the Fairgrounds Authority and backed by the state of Kentucky. The amphitheatre proposal will need 20 million dollars and to be approved by the General Assembly in the 2008 session.