Louisville awards first loan in bid to create Portland food hub - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Louisville awards first loan in bid to create Portland food hub

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – An Italian-style ice cream maker is the first recipient of a loan program meant to lure businesses that buy from Kentucky farms into the city's Portland neighborhood.

The Metropolitan Business Development Corp. on Thursday approved a $32,500 loan for Gelato Gilberto, which plans to expand production and buy at least 51 percent of its materials – from milk to berries – from Kentucky farmers. The loan is contingent on the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board also approving a matching share.

"We're very, very excited," said Justin Gilbert, who founded Gelato Gilberto in 2006 and now operates a retail store in Norton Commons in eastern Jefferson County.

"We've been holding off on our sales effort because we didn't have the capacity," said Gilbert, who co-owns the business with his wife, Kristin.

The $500,000 Louisville Agribusiness Loan Program was created in 2012. It combines city money from Community Development Block Grants and state funds from a 1998 settlement with cigarette makers that has been used to help farmers diversify away from tobacco.

Gilbert said he plans to buy milk, berries and honey from Kentucky and local farmers. As part of the loan program, at least half of the produce must come from Kentucky farms.

Gelato Gilberto's Portland facility will be located at 2500 Montgomery Street in a building partly owned by Louisville businessman Gill Holland, an architect of redeveloping the NuLu neighborhood who is now leading a revitalization effort in Portland.

If the state board approves the rest of the loan, Gilbert said he hopes to have construction finished and begin production in Portland by this summer. The company plans to create one full-time and one part-time position, according to the loan summary.

Besides aiding Kentucky farmers, the loan program is attempting to help Louisville's local food efforts and boost business in an area whose approximate boundaries are the Ohio River, Tenth Street, Market Street and 38th Street.

Theresa Zawacki, metro government's executive administrator for brownfields and local food initiatives, said 24 to 30 businesses have expressed interest in the program.

"It's one of those things that is pretty specifically tailored to a subset of businesses, and so we're looking for a very limited number of things to fund," she said. "Between that and the geographic limitations of the loan -- it's a really targeted opportunity."

Zawacki said the program's goal is to award at least five loans of up to $100,000 each within the next five years.

One of the food-related businesses of that area – Grasshoppers Distribution on Portland Avenue – has since closed.

"Grasshoppers' decision to close doesn't affect our interest in the Portland neighborhood as a center for a cluster of food business that are using Kentucky products," Zawacki said.

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