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New Report Focuses on Growing Louisville's Food, Bourbon Economy

Monday April 28, 2014

Goal is to make Louisville a food and spirits capital

Louisville has a unique opportunity to significantly grow its tourism economy by taking advantage of the global popularity of bourbon and the city’s nationally-recognized culinary scene, according to a report released today.

The Bourbon & Food Work Group, appointed by Mayor Greg Fischer last December, unveiled a 22-page report detailing numerous strategies to accelerate the goal of being the best culinary and spirits capital in the world.

With six major recommendations, and numerous smaller ones, the work group suggested everything from building a downtown bourbon/food visitors center to creating a public art piece that is a “must have photo” for tourists, the bourbon equivalent of the big Slugger bat. Other ideas were more centered on education, such as developing a certification program that would create an army of proven bourbon experts in Louisville’s hospitality industry.

“As we all know, bourbon is ‘hot’ right now,” Fischer said. “Fortune Magazine recently said we’re in a ‘Billion-Dollar Bourbon Boom.’ But while trends come and go, bourbon is a proud part of Louisville’s history, a big part of our present and, with this plan, will be an even bigger part of our future. This is our chance to increase the momentum so that Louisville and bourbon are as classically paired as Napa Valley is to wine.”

Bourbon provides 4,200 jobs in Louisville, with $263 million in payroll and $32 million in tax revenue. In 2012 alone, there were $50 million in capital projects – and new visitor attractions are springing up throughout the community, most notably, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on Main Street and the re-opening of the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Shively. Because of these developments – and the success of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which now draws more than 600,000 visitors a year — Fischer appointed the work group in December and asked the 60-plus members to think boldly about the future.

The six major recommendations are:

Create a Bourbon Visitor Center. This would be a 7-day-a-week starting point for both local and visiting bourbon enthusiasts. It would host lectures and cooking events – as well as serving as the launching point for traveling the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Create an annual world-class, uniquely Louisville, signature Bourbon and Food Festival. The Bourbon Affair, hosted by the Kentucky Distillers' Association and happening this May, could grow into this broader festival concept beginning in 2015.

Create a bourbon certification and recognition system in which the hospitality industry (especially front-line servers and bartenders) would become certified bourbon experts. The goal is for every hospitality employee to know the history of bourbon and be able to expertly discuss brands with customers. The Filson Club will be a key partner in this effort because it already has the Bourbon Academy.

Incorporate bourbon and food into Louisville International Airport in a significant way, so that travelers will know they’ve arrived at the epicenter of bourbon.

Create a common marketing strategy for the city around bourbon and food. A nationally-recognized consultant has already been hired by the CVB to conduct this work and make recommendations.

Use bourbon to market and sell the city. The city should more deliberately court convention and trade shows tied to the spirits industry and the mayor should have his own brand of bourbon to hand out when promoting Louisville.

Fischer said the city — along with many partners, including the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau and local restaurants — will work to make the report a reality. “City government alone can’t implement the recommendations, but working with the broader distilling and restaurant industries, we can,” Fischer said.

The work group has more than 60 members and its work was divided among three groups -- Food Committee (headed by businessman Stephen Reily and Kathy Cary, owner of Lilly's); Bourbon Committee (headed by Rick Robinson of Wild Turkey and Michael Howerton, chairman of the board of the CVB) and the Bourbon Built Environment Committee (headed by Rebecca Matheney, interim director of The Downtown Partnership).

The Mayor is seeking public input and ideas about the bourbon and food report. Comments will be taken until May 31. People can either email their ideas or comments to chris.poynter@louisvilleky.gov or emalee.lundin@louisvilleky.gov or by tagging the mayor on twitter (@Louisvillemayor) or Facebook (Mayor Greg Fischer).

The full report is available at louisvilleky.gov