Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Fri, January 27, 2012


News alert: American Gateway Bank ordered to address $35M in problem loans

American Gateway Bank President and CEO Don Ayres says the 107-year-old bank is taking steps to address about $35 million in problem loans—which account for roughly 11% of the bank's total portfolio—that led federal and state regulators to issue a consent order on Dec. 21. The Port Allen-based bank has agreed to the consent order from the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which effectively requires it to outline a plan to improve the quality of the loans, implement the plan according to a timeline and maintain a minimum capital-to-asset ratio. Ayres says the bank is in good financial health and that he does not anticipate any branch closures or employee layoffs as a result. While the bank posted a $120,000 loss in 2011, Ayres notes it profited $400,000 in the fourth quarter and expects to make a profit in 2012. He says 74% of the problem loans are currently less than 30 days past due and are being paid upon as agreed. "We've been working on this for the past two or three years, and we'll continue cooperating with (the LOFI and FDIC) to work through this," Ayres says. American Gateway Bank was one of nine banks throughout the country issued a consent order from the FDIC for problem loans in December. Read more in Daily Report PM. —Steve Sanoski

Juban developer: Site work continues; deals with retailers in the works

When ground broke last February on the massive Juban Crossing retail/residential/entertainment project in Livingston Parish, developer Creekstone Companies announced Kohl's department store was the first national retailer to sign on to the project and said more announcements would follow "in the coming weeks." Nearly a year later, those announcements have yet to come. However, lots of dirt has been moved at the site, and Creekstone Companies Principal Stephen Keller says negotiations are still taking place with those national retailers he alluded to last year. "Our project is moving forward and will begin offering Livingston Parish residents the finest shopping, dining and working destination in 2013. We have a solid group of retailers dedicated to the success of this project and ready to break ground," he says in a prepared release. "Similar to other industries, national retail markets are focusing on European sovereign debt issues and the reality of slower economic recovery; however, we are seeing an increase in retail activity and interest in our project that is the strongest environment since 2007. While we are not immune to the realities of the marketplace, we are working with retailers to establish a timeline that fits their plans for growth and a seamless construction site." —Steve Sanoski

December plunge leaves EBR building permits down 3.5% in '11

A nearly 12% drop in building permits in December left year-end numbers for 2011 off 3.5% compared to 2010, the city-parish Public Works Department reports. A total of 1,556 permits were issued in December, compared to 1,763 in the same month a year prior—a decrease of 11.7%. The dip left 2011 permits at 21,759, down 3.5% from the 22,565 permits issued in 2010. Valuation of projects permitted was down even sharper. The $548.5 million in projects permitted in 2011 represents a 22.8% drop from the $710.5 million in 2010. The largest commercial project permitted in December was a $3.9 million development by Tyco Safety Products at 15789 Old Perkins Road. The second largest project permitted was an interior remodeling of Gerry Lane Cadillac on Reiger Road, valued at $2.2 million.

Editor: CATS pounces on heels of crime committee's failure

Give those responsible for running the parish bus system credit for being quick to recognize a fortuitous opportunity, says Business Report Executive Editor JR Ball in his latest column. Once it became clear that a crime fighting committee—comprised of politicians and public safety professionals—was fumbling away its chance to get a much-discussed tax proposal on the April ballot, the board that oversees the Capital Area Transportation System acted within 24 hours to fill the void. "I'm not sure which is more amazing: a crime committee—at work for months to address what East Baton Rouge Parish residents consistently say is a top priority—utterly failing to honor its pledge to get a proposal before the voters in April, or the CATS board being clever enough and nimble enough to pounce on the ballot opening," Ball writes. "Either way, it's a serendipitous development for a bus system facing a $2.1 million operating deficit that could shutter the bus system by the end of July, say CATS officials at every opportunity." Get Ball's take on the proposed CATS tax and the chances of its passage by reading the full column here; and send your comments to [email protected].

Today's poll question: If the polls were open today, would you vote for the proposed CATS tax?

LaPolitics by Maginnis: GOP race forms in state

With the Republican nomination race ramping up instead of wrapping up, Louisiana politicos are lining up behind the three main candidates in advance of the March 24 preferential primary and the battle for state delegates that will go on from there. If Romney or Gingrich hasn't knocked the other out by Super Tuesday, March 6, and if Paul continues picking up delegates, especially in the caucus states, the race could intensify between Louisiana's March 24 primary and the June 2 state convention, where the state's 46 delegates to the Tampa convention will be chosen. So far, nearly all statewide-elected Republicans and those in the congressional delegation are staying on the sidelines, as is Gov. Bobby Jindal, now that his early choice, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, has dropped out. The lone exception is Congressman Rodney Alexander, who is state chairman for Mitt Romney, as he was in 2008. Former Congressman Bob Livingston is closely involved in his longtime friend Newt Gingrich's campaign. Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, is state chairman for Ron Paul.
—With only 45 months to go before the next governor's election, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain and Sen. Gerald Long, R-Natchitoches, say they are looking at making the race. Republican Strain is the more decisive, telling The (Monroe) News Star he will likely run, and LaPolitics that he "is putting a team together." "I love what I am doing," he said at the start of his second term, adding that he is "looking and thinking ahead." Sen. Long says he is "actively thinking about it, (but) not out there promoting it." While he expects a crowded field, Long sees an opportunity for a lesser-known figure, especially if no one else from north Louisiana runs.

They said it: "I make people uncomfortable." —New Public Service Commission Chairman Foster Campbell on why colleagues passed him over before, in The Advocate

(John Maginnis publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com.)

B.R. executive takes the stand for prosecution in Stanford trial

As the worldwide financial crisis took hold in 2008, investors in certificates of deposit issued by R. Allen Stanford's bank began cashing out, and—fearing a run on the bank—Stanford amped up efforts to reassure them, a former executive from Baton Rouge testified Thursday. The Houston Chronicle reports Stanford told his sales staff in October 2008: "We got to hold our clients' hands. … We have to stay calm." Jurors saw a video of that Miami gathering during the testimony of Jason Green, a former director of Stanford Group Co.'s office in Baton Rouge, and the most senior executive to testify thus far in Stanford's fraud trial. Stanford is accused of operating a $7 billion fraud through Stanford Group Co., a brokerage and financial advisory firm, and Stanford International Bank in Antigua, both units of Houston-based Stanford Financial Group. Around December 2008, as Stanford was busily reassuring clients the bank was fiscally sound, Green testified, Stanford told him the bank had lost $600 million in one day. Green worked for Stanford from 1996 until 2009, when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission forced Stanford's companies into receivership. The government's third witness against Stanford, Green is also a defendant in civil suits by Stanford investors. He described a pressure-cooker culture in which teams competed to meet sales goals, and said top sellers received bonuses presented during annual retreats at luxury location. Green also testified that he gave his $3 million in bonuses to his church, but the name and location of the church were not disclosed. Green is back on the stand today. Read the full story here.

Glen's returns to Baton Rouge

Glen Bynum has operated more than 20 clubs in Baton Rouge dating back to the 1970s, including the Kingfish music club and perhaps his most memorable, Glen's Bombay Club, which operated at Corporate Square from 1992 to 1999. Bynum is back, and for his newest bar, he's partnered with longtime friend Bubba Phillips to create a new incarnation of Glen's. Located in Corporate Square near Hooter's, Glen's is an intimate, upscale bar catering to the business and professionals classes, men as well as women. "So many of the old great bars that we grew up with are gone," says Phillips, 67. "Now, all the great bars are restaurants." Not Glen's, although it does offer a limited casual menu. Within its brick and mahogany interior, Glen's full bar includes an extensive wine list and a wide selection of single malts and premium bourbons. Glen's also pours a house wine named Glen's, produced by a vintner in Sonoma, Calif. "We're moderately priced with a very upscale atmosphere," Bynum says. "I think this is the best one yet." Bynum says anyone who's been in Baton Rouge for any length of time probably has been through one of his bars. "Boston has Cheers," Bynum says. "Baton Rouge has Glen's." The new Glen's, at 5110 Corporate Blvd., opens at 4 p.m. weekdays, 6 p.m. on Saturdays, and is closed Sundays. —Daryl Moore

Read the rest of this week's 255 Dine newsletter here.

News roundup: LWC issues phone scam warning … State Capitol to be shuttered Saturday … SMartie Awards recognizes 'Business Report' as best source of local news

A con from Conn. The Louisiana Workforce Commission says Louisiana residents should beware of a phone scam seeking to obtain sensitive confidential information and, in some cases, purporting to be related to unemployment insurance benefits. The LWC says fraudulent robo-calls claiming to be from the Connecticut Department of Labor have been received in Louisiana. The calls ask the targets to divulge the last four digits of their Social Security number and their 16-digit debit card number, a tactic known as a "phishing" scam. If you receive a suspicious call or have any questions, the LWC asks you to report it to them by calling toll-free 866-783-5567.

Closed for repairs: The State Capitol will be closed to the public Saturday due to preventative maintenance of utility power and chilled water supply systems servicing the capitol complex area. The building is scheduled to reopen to the public at 8:00 a.m. Sunday. For additional information, you can contact the Senate Communication Office at 342-9737.

Taking our best shot: The Baton Rouge Business Report was awarded a shot glass (you read that right) by BRSocMe at the social media organization's first annual SMartie Awards ceremony Thursday evening, which honored the companies, organizations and individuals who best use social media in the Capital Region. Business Report took the top prize in "The Scoop" category as the best source of local news, edging out Dig magazine, WBRZ-Channel 2, WAFB-Channel 9 and Visit Baton Rouge. Business Report would like to note the shot glass was empty when we received it.

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