Business

10 interests to watch in the new year

Horse on Darby Dan Farm on Old Frankfort Pike in Lexington, Kentucky are silhouetted against morning sunrise on Wed. April 21, 2004.
Horse on Darby Dan Farm on Old Frankfort Pike in Lexington, Kentucky are silhouetted against morning sunrise on Wed. April 21, 2004. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Throughout 2010, major business news, both nationally and locally, remained rooted in emerging from the recession, with problem sectors like housing, finance and the auto industry being closely watched. What industries and organizations will fuel major changes in 2011 or see themselves undergo major changes?

Here are 10 situations to watch in Central Kentucky.

Expanded gambling at tracks?

The struggling equine industry got a small jolt in the arm during the last week of 2010, as a Franklin Circuit judge ruled tracks can proceed with what's called Instant Racing. The electronic game allows people to bet on previously run races. But the judge's ruling is expected to be appealed by the conservative advocacy group The Family Foundation, which opposes expanded gambling in the state.

Tracks are discussing whether to install the machines but have noted they wouldn't be as potentially lucrative as other forms of expanded gambling. Such an expansion has been called for over the past few years to help one of Kentucky's signature industries better compete with states such as Indiana and Pennsylvania that use slots or casino revenue to boost purses and breeders' incentive funds.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said it's unlikely that legislation on expanding gambling at tracks will pass in the session beginning in January.

Efforts in past years have been killed in the Republican-controlled Senate, he noted. With Republicans adding to their majority after November's election, Stumbo said it's unlikely any measure on expanding gambling will pass.

Housing market

The year 2010 marked an up-and-down year for local real estate. The federal home-buyer tax credit for new and existing owners spurred sales in the first half of the year, but they experienced steep drops as 2010 continued.

In a 14-county area, the number of residential home sales closed fell year over year by 31 percent in July, 25 percent in August, 34 percent in September, 40 percent in October and 37 percent in November.

Year-over-year comparisons will be easier in 2011, so the percentage drops are likely to taper off. But the lack of buyers in the second half of 2010 has left home inventories high.

Commercial properties

The availability of commercial office space jumped in 2010 as some companies closed and other locations came on to the market. Occupancy got a major boost in the latter half of the year, though, as ACS took space on Lexmark International's property to open a call center employing 700 people.

But more could be coming available. Plans for reviving the Turfland Mall property include a mixed-use development with major office space as a key component.

Retail space has fared more favorably, as retailers have used the depressed economy to negotiate better terms.

With new construction halted for the most part, 2011 is likely to be a year of filling existing spaces.

New leadership

New mayor. Check.

New UK president. Coming soon.

New downtown development leader. Coming soon, too, as is a new leader for the city's convention and visitors bureau.

Some of the city's top leaders and their years of experience are departing either by choice or that of voters in 2011.

For more on the impact, read Tom Eblen's column in this section.

More HD, faster Web

Lexington's cable provider, Insight Communications, spent a majority of 2010 informing its customers about the switch from analog to digital cable.

It was a lengthy process that saw "mini-box" become a popular or reviled term, depending on the level of the user's tech savvy.

The promised payoff is expected to come in 2011, as the cable operator will soon announce additional high-definition channels that will be available because of the bandwidth freed up by eliminating the bandwidth-heavy analog channels.

Insight also will soon announce details about residential broadband Internet access of up to 50 Mbps.

Change at Lexmark

This year will mark the first full year for the third CEO in Lexmark's nearly 20-year history. Paul Rooke took the helm in October, when CEO Paul Curlander surprised some by announcing his retirement. Curlander, 58, has remained as chairman of the company but will leave that position in the spring.

Rooke has been with the company since its inception and became a key player by leading the company's laser division beginning in 2002. He was tapped to turn around the struggling inkjet division in 2007. Under his leadership, the company geared its inkjet products to businesses, hoping to tap into a market that prints more frequently than consumers.

Southland Christianand Lexington Mall

What many considered Lexington's biggest eyesore got a new owner in 2010, when Southland Christian Church bought Lexington Mall from its longtime out-of-state owner for $8.13 million.

Through construction and renovation, Central Kentucky's largest church plans to have a 49,000-square-foot, $30-million satellite building at the mall site that would hold as many as 2,800 people.

An additional 61,000 square feet would be left for expansion, and a parking lot would hold 1,800 cars.

The campus is expected to be open by the end of 2012, so 2011 will see the unfolding of the latest step in the church's plan to create five satellite campuses. The Lexington Mall property would mark the second (there is already one in Danville). The ultimate goal is to use them to draw 10,000 people, effectively doubling the size of the congregation.

Replacing Rupp

The saga of a new basketball arena has been a discussion in recent years and will continue to be in 2011.

A plan pitched in recent years by the sports marketing firm IMG College would have seen a replacement of Rupp Arena essentially pay for itself through revenue it generated. Delay and further delay raised doubts about the feasibility of such a plan until late 2010, when UK Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart said the plan had been shelved. Barnhart said the city would have to decide how to move forward on a new downtown arena.

Back at the drawing board, the city said it will resume a study that looks at using anticipated increases in tax revenue to help pay for construction. UK's current lease to play in Rupp expires after the 2017-18 season.

Bill Owen, president and CEO of Lexington Center Corp., estimates it will take a year to design a new downtown arena and probably two years to build it.

Major anniversaries

Put on your party hat because 2011 sees major anniversaries for some of Central Kentucky's best-known businesses.

On March 27, Lexmark officially turns 20. The company was a spin-off of IBM's typewriter and printer operations. While the company has retired typewriters, perhaps some will come out for the party.

Spring also marks the 25th anniversary of Toyota's first wholly owned North American manufacturing plant in Georgetown. (The company started a joint venture in California with General Motors before that.)

And in the fall, you'll want to put on your best to celebrate Keeneland's 75th anniversary during its fall meet. Even musical acts are getting prepared for that one. The University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops will play in commemoration of the anniversary in Rupp Arena on Oct. 15 and are planning a tribute to music associated with the horse.

Will Graeter's return?

Just like a meal, the final entry in our look ahead will be a dessert.

When the beloved ice cream retailer Graeter's announced in November that its Lexington franchisee would be closing its four stores here, the company's leader vowed they would return.

CEO Richard Graeter said the company hopes to open locations in Lexington again by spring, perhaps even reopening a couple of the former stores.

So get your spoons and slurping straws ready.

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