Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, December 27, 2012

Saban buys land at Perkins Rowe from Spinosa

Terry L. Saban of Tuscaloosa, Ala., the wife of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, has purchased nearly two acres of vacant land at Perkins Rowe for $750,000, according to documents filed at the city-parish Clerk of Court. The two tracts—0.94 acres and 0.85 acres—were contractually signed by Terry Saban as "sole member" of TLS Investments LLC, listed as a Louisiana company. However, the Louisiana Secretary of State lists Tuscaloosa as TLS' base of operations. Henry Perret Jr., the listed agent for TLS in Lafayette, declined to discuss any details of the sale or say what Saban has in store for the site. Nick Saban and Perkins Rowe developer Tommy Spinosa have done business together in the past, and were also revealed to be co-owners of Central Facilities LLC, which supplies chilled water to the mixed-use development's air-conditioning system. That connection was revealed when KeyBank National Association of Cleveland began the foreclosure process on Spinosa for unpaid loans in 2010. Spinosa, who is listed as manager of 5615 Associates LLC, which sold the land to Terry Saban, also declined to comment on the deal and plans for the site. —Adam Pearson

Ethan Allen move just one example of Baton Rouge's changing commercial corridors

Customers looking for bargains are packing the Ethan Allen store on Florida Boulevard near Airline Highway this week, as it is offering deeply discounted prices on its high-end furniture in preparation for its move early next year to a new location. The store, which has occupied the same site for more than 30 years, is moving to a newly renovated building it purchased earlier this year on Perkins Road at Bluebonnet, across from Perkins Rowe. The owners say the long-established business has had continually strong sales. The move across town says a lot about the shifting demographics in Baton Rouge and where retailers perceive the action to be. "You want to be located where your customers shop," says realtor Chad Ortte, adding that Ethan Allen owner Todd Grand spent three years scouting for a new south Baton Rouge location before settling on the strip center he has since purchased and is renovating. "You're going to see a lot more shifts from the Florida/Airline area to Perkins/Bluebonnet/Siegen." Grand settled on the existing strip center for his new store, which previously housed Young Fashions, because he couldn't find a suitable tract of undeveloped land in the area. "Renovations are always harder than building from the ground up," Ortte says. "But we were trying to find good dirt in that area and it just wasn't there." Ortte predicts the old Ethan Allen store will—like many vacant properties and former stores in the Florida/Airline area—eventually be redeveloped for uses other than retail, such as a church or charter school. "We have seen some interest from churches and schools," he says, adding no deals or offers have been made. —Stephanie Riegel

Publisher: Let's clean up our act and image in 2013

There's a move afoot by the Department of Public Works and the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority to fight blight, with a focus on abandoned houses and vacant lots. In his new column, Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister says he applauds the initiative because "as a taxpayer I am not interested in paying to take care of someone else's property." McCollister says those who own neglected homes and properties should have the option of doing one of four things: "sell it, maintain it, use it—or lose it." McCollister also suggests that the new, strict anti-blight program be expanded to local commercial property and businesses, specifically in regards to abandoned signage. "This is simply 'sight pollution,' and it is just as ugly and distasteful as trash in the street or abandoned homes in our neighborhoods," he says. "Someone is not taking care of their business, and there is no excuse. Where is their community pride?" You can check out a photo gallery of a few examples of the kind of "sight pollution" McCollister is talking about here. "There are other cities that run successful programs addressing this problem of blight, and there is no reason we can't get started here in 2013," McCollister says. "But let's make sure we address abandoned properties and abandoned signs." Read the full column here; and send your comments to [email protected].

'225 Weekender': Surreal Salon exhibit opens next week

The fifth annual Surreal Salon at Baton Rouge Gallery will engage audiences in a multisensory art experience beginning Wednesday. The exhibition will feature works by 43 artists representing 18 different states, exploring the growing popularity and exceptional quality of the pop-surrealist/lowbrow movement. And start planning your costumes for the Surreal Salon Soiree, which will take place Saturday, Jan. 26. Baton Rouge Gallery has all the details on both here; and check out the new 225 Weekender e-newsletter here for more local happenings this weekend and beyond.

U.S. new home sales jump to fastest rate in 2 1/2 years

Americans bought new homes last month at the fastest pace in more than two and a half years, further evidence of a sustained housing recovery. Sales of new homes rose 4.4% in November from October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 377,000, the Commerce Department says in a report released this morning. That's the fastest pace since April 2010, when a federal tax credit boosted sales. New-home sales have also increased 15.3% over the past year. However, sales remain below the 700,000 that economists consider healthy. Only 149,000 new homes were for sale at the end of last month, according to the report. That's just above a record low of 143,000 in August. Still, the market is steadily improving and that has lifted builder confidence to its highest level in 6 1/2 years, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo survey released last week. The pace of home construction is nearly 22% higher than a year earlier, according to government data. Builders are on track this year to start work on the most homes in four years. Home prices are also increasing. The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller national home price index released Wednesday increased 4.3% in October compared with a year ago. That's the largest year-over-year increase in two and a half years. Sales of previously occupied homes rose to the highest level in three years in November, the National Association of Realtors reported last week.

American consumer confidence falls on 'fiscal cliff' fears

U.S. consumer confidence tumbled in December, driven lower by fears of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect next week. The Conference Board reports that its consumer confidence index fell this month to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November. That is a second straight decline and the lowest level since August. The survey showed consumers are slightly more optimistic about current business conditions and hiring. But their outlook for the next six months deteriorated to its lowest level since 2011, the survey showed. Lynn Franco, the board's director of economic indicators, says the decline in expectations for the next six months is a signal that consumers are worried about the "fiscal cliff." That's the name for the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that take effect Jan. 1 if the White House and Congress can't reach a budget deal. Expectations also plunged in August 2011 when a fight over the federal debt limit brought the government to the brink of insolvency, Franco says. A separate consumer confidence survey released last week by the University of Michigan fell to a five-month low this month. And reports show the holiday shopping season was the weakest since 2008, when the country was in a deep recession. Negotiations between President Barack Obama and House Republican leaders on a package to avert the sharp tax increases and spending cuts reached an impasse last week, and are set to resume today.

Today's poll question: Do you think failure to avoid the "fiscal cliff" would have a significant negative impact on your personal finances?

News roundup: Audit alleges financial mismanagement by ex-sheriff in Terrebonne Parish … U.S. jobless aid applications fall to 5-year low … Google lists best Android apps of 2012

Down the bayou: A months-long review of former Terrebonne Parish sheriff Vernon Bourgeois' administration has turned up allegations of financial mismanagement. The (Houma) Courier reports the draft report details more than a dozen "audit concerns," including allegations that could run afoul of the law. Among allegations in the draft report, Bourgeois and a deputy used a parish credit card to fuel a borrowed RV they took to Talladega Superspeedway for a NASCAR race. The full story can be found here.

Help wanted: The average number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits over the past month fell to the lowest level since March 2008, a sign that the job market is healing. The Labor Department reports this morning that weekly applications dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to a nearly five-year low of 356,750. Still, the Christmas holiday may have distorted the figures, as many state unemployment offices were closed Monday and Tuesday and could not provide exact data. More details in the full story can be found here.

The screen scene: On the heels of Apple releasing a list of what it considers to be the best iOS apps of 2012, Google on Wednesday named the best apps to land on the Google Play Store in 2012. As consumer electronics weblog SlashGear notes, the apps range to ones that probably everyone has installed on their Android device to ones that will be relatively unknown to the mainstream crowd. "So you could potentially use Google's list to discover your new favorite app," SlashGear says. Check out the list here.

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