It's a long journey from upscale Manhattan restaurant owner to Bowling Green minor league baseball proprietor, and Jerry Katzoff detailed Thursday how he made that trip.
Katzoff, owner of the Single-A Bowling Green Hot Rods and developer of Stadium Park Plaza, was in town as the Hot Rods opened their season at Bowling Green Ballpark. He spoke about his journey and businesses at the lunch meeting of the Leadership Bowling Green Alumni Association at 6-4-3 Sports Bar.
"The first thing I learned when I came to Bowling Green was to say yes to everybody, which is why I'm here," he joked.
Katzoff, a lawyer by training, said his entrepreunership started with a chain of upscale day spas which he eventually sold. He discovered that selling the chain as a group was more lucrative than if he had sold the spas individually.
"That led me into brand building, which is what we do now," he said.
He eventually bought famed New York Italian restaurant Il Molino, and now has 16 Il Molinos internationally, including in China and Japan, with more in the works for the Middle East.
In 2007, Katzoff's son Stuart approached him with the idea of buying the minor league baseball team in Tuscon, Ariz.
"I said, 'What do we know about running a minor league baseball team?' It turns out you really don't need to know anything about baseball," Katzoff said. "We're really in the movie theater business," where the profits come from selling concessions and advertising.
Katzoff bought the team and eventually moved it to Reno, Nev., where the city provided $30 million for a baseball stadium.
"It has gone on to be one of the most successful teams in minor league baseball," he said.
When former Hot Rods owner Art Solomon decided to sell the Bowling Green team in 2013, Katzoff found another investment. "Why should we have just one team?" Katzoff remembers thinking.
He has also since purchased the Triple-A Louisville Bats.
The Hot Rods would likely have been the end of Katzoff's Bowling Green involvement, except that the development adjacent to the ballpark around a downtown parking garage became mired in legal and financial troubles.
The development, then known as Hitcents Park Plaza, was still being finished when the Katzoffs first came to Bowling Green. With the expertise garnered from developing a similar project in Reno, Katzoff remembered thinking as he looked at the structure, "Boy, we missed out on an opportunity," not knowing the opportunity would eventually come.
With the previous developers facing contractor liens and financial issues, Katzoff first was asked to take over 6-4-3 and the other restaurant in the wrap, Mariah's, last year. He took over the entire project, now renamed Stadium Park Plaza, this year.
To show his commitment to the community, Katzoff also purchased the 150-unit Jennings Creek Apartments in 2014.
"We are engrossed in this community," he said.
Filling Stadium Park Plaza with tenants is now a primary focus, and Katzoff said he "pulled off a coup" by getting coffee purveyor Starbucks to agree to open a location in the building in conjunction with a WKU store. Katzoff said Starbucks was reluctant to open the location because of inadequate foot traffic, but he was able to partner with WKU and do some successful lobbying for the project, which is under construction in the space adjacent to 6-4-3.
"Starbucks has a way to legitimize a building," he said.
As for the undeveloped portions around the garage, Katzoff said he's still considering building more office space, condos or a combination.
"We will definitely do something there," he said.
Katzoff summed up his journey from New York to Bowling Green to the several dozen leadership alumni in the audience:
"We're here now and we're happy we're here. This was the right place at the right time," he said. "And we expect to be here a long time."
— Follow city government reporter Wes Swietek on Twitter @BGDNgovtbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.