Commerce Building in downtown B.R. sells to N.O. firm
New Orleans-based firm 5thfloor Company, which is led by developer TJ Iarocci on behalf of a group of private investors, has purchased the eight-story, 180,000-square-foot Commerce Building, located on the corner of Laurel and Third streets in downtown. A purchase price has not been disclosed. The Commerce Building was constructed in the early 1950s and has been vacant for the past three years. The Downtown Development District says numerous groups explored acquiring and renovating the building, without success, during that time. Iarocci, one of the partners behind the award-winning Rice Mill Lofts redevelopment project in the Bywater section of New Orleans, teamed up with Vision City Development Group partners John Schneider, Derek Fitch and Trey Godfrey to purchase the building from Bob Dean. VCDG previously acquired four other downtown buildings from Dean, with two of them having undergone renovations in excess of $20 million: Kress at Third & Main and the Hotel Indigo. "We have been eyeing the Commerce Building for years, and we have a bold vision to put it back in successful economic commerce. We are exploring a multi-use option that would include residential, retail and office spaces," reads a statement from Iarocci.
Kennedy still in the dark on Jindal's reasoning for unexpected funds
State Treasurer John Kennedy says the Jindal administration still hasn't explained to him why a law dealing with unbudgeted funds doesn't mean what legislators say it means. Kennedy, who made the remarks Wednesday, says he might seek an attorney general's opinion to help clarify the matter. As explained by the Legislature's chief economist, House Bill 822—which passed during the last session and was signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal—says that if the Revenue Estimating Conference recognizes up to $204.7 million in actual collections from the last fiscal year above April's projection, the money should be transferred by the treasury to a Replenishment Fund and then to the Budget Stabilization Fund, commonly known as the "rainy day" fund. The Jindal administration wants to use at least some of that money, if it surfaces, to offset pending Medicaid cuts. "[W]e feel confident that any savings will be available to mitigate the health care reductions as the HB 822 provision applies only to dollars recognized before the end of the fiscal year," says Michael DiResto, an aide to Division of Administration Commissioner Paul Rainwater, in an email. However, DiResto did not provide any facts or arguments to support the administration's position. "Frankly, it seems very clear that the money goes back into the rainy day fund," Kennedy says. "I haven't heard why the administration thinks otherwise. I'm certainly willing to listen. I just want to follow the will of the Legislature." —David Jacobs
B.R. gets a glimpse of The Elysian
A rendering for the long-planned infill development at Spanish Town Road and North 13th Street consisting of 100 mixed-income apartments was today released to the public. The Elysian, which broke ground May 16, is a four-story, 110,300-square-foot development valued at just under $9.5 million, according to city-parish records. It will be a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments when it's completed next summer; and it will include parking, a courtyard and a playground. Elysian Development Partners is teaming with New Orleans-based Gulf Coast Housing Partnership on the project, which is also supported with funding from a number of state and local redevelopment and housing agencies. Milton J. Womack Inc. is the general contractor on the development, and Looney Ricks Kiss is the architect. "The magnitude of this project will impact the area and bring other much-needed retail and residential development for the downtown and Mid City areas," Donnie Jarreau, a partner in the project, is predicting. See the rendering here.
Contract extension for NASA facility in N.O. includes LSU
A five-year extension of an agreement to support and develop the National
Center for Advanced Manufacturing located at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans was signed today by officials from NASA, the state, LSU and the University of New Orleans. NASA is building the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and plans to build components of its next-generation Space Launch System at Michoud, which supported the Space Shuttle program through its final mission in 2011. At the same time, the state and UNO have provided major tooling and advanced materials resources, as well as research and development assistance, to back both NASA's exploration and discovery mission. That partnership, in place since 1999, continues through 2017 with the latest agreement by the parties. Located on an 832-acre site in eastern New Orleans, the Michoud facility is one of the world's largest manufacturing centers, with 43 acres under a single roof and deepwater access enabling transportation of large space systems and hardware. To date, Louisiana has invested more than $62 million in the NCAM partnership. For the first time, the latest NCAM agreement brings LSU's technology, engineering and research resources into the partnership. "As Michoud evolves from a single-tenant, single-mission facility into a multi-tenant, advanced manufacturing facility, it makes sense for us to enhance NCAM's ability to support that new paradigm by taking advantage of the unique capabilities offered by both LSU and UNO," says LED Secretary Stephen Moret. Read more about the new agreement here.
Deepwater wellhead containment test deemed a success
Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle says his office has received a personal briefing and update from the federal government's top offshore drilling safety regulator on the successful test of a new deepwater wellhead containment system in the Gulf of Mexico. The test proves the technology and expertise are available to respond rapidly and effectively if a deepwater wellhead must be shut down, Angelle says. "This is another step in returning confidence to the industry that it will be allowed to operate and develop the plentiful domestic energy resources available in the Gulf of Mexico. This exercise has shown us all that the U.S. oil and gas industry has responded in an unprecedented way to create the world's most sophisticated containment response program," reads a statement from Angelle. A simulated well-control incident was staged in 7,000 feet of water to test the capping equipment, which was built and operated by the Marine Well Containment Company. MWCC is a partnership originally formed by Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell following the 2010 Gulf oil spill to share in the cost of designing, constructing and operating the deepwater containment system, priced in excess of $1 billion. It was delivered, deployed and latched onto the test wellhead in just under five days. Click here to read more about the containment system, including photos and a video; and here to read more about its recent testing.
Senate panel revives dozens of tax breaks
The Senate's tax-writing panel is moving to revive dozens of tax breaks for businesses including biodiesel and wind energy producers, even as the GOP-controlled House trumpets symbolic legislation to erase them and create a new tax code with lower rates and fewer special-interest tax breaks. The $200 billion-plus package debated by the Senate Finance Committee today is anchored by a two-year provision to protect middle- and upper-income taxpayers from being hit by the alternative minimum tax, shielding them from higher levies originally meant to prevent the rich from escaping taxes altogether. The cost of the package grew by more than $50 billion since its initial release on Wednesday, including a tax credit for wind production criticized by presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. That provision was initially targeted for elimination. Supporters of a tax break for builders of NASCAR tracks and other motorsports facilities also managed to revive them after that break had faced the chopping block. Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, a longtime sponsor of tax reform, won a committee vote to revive a tax break for plug-in motorcycles and golf carts. Panel members claimed the exercise was actually a step forward for tax reform because they had summoned the courage to allow almost 20 tax breaks to expire, including a much-criticized tax credit for ethanol producers. Read the full story here.
Farmers in Louisiana, Texas join RiceTec lawsuit
Rice farmers in Louisiana and Texas have filed papers to join an Arkansas lawsuit that accuses RiceTec Inc. of providing hybrid seed that produced inferior rice and didn't live up to promised yields. Court papers filed in Greene County Circuit Court show that 11 farmers in Louisiana and seven in Texas have joined the suit. The law firm representing the farmers says a total of 51 growers are now suing the Texas-based company. RiceTec denies that its products are defective and vows to defend itself in court. The farmers claim in their lawsuit that RiceTec falsely represented the quality of its hybrid rice. The farmers say the hybrid doesn't mill as well as traditional long-grain rice, which has allegedly damaged the reputation of the U.S. rice industry, hurt farmers' ability to export their products and resulted in market losses for farmers across the country.
Sports roundup: LSU edges Alabama for top spot on 'USA Today' preseason poll … Hornets to play two preseason games in N.O. … Saints CB Greer to have hernia surgery
At the starting line: LSU will start the season ranked No. 1 in the USA Today Sports Coaches' Poll, which again is flush with teams from the nation's dominant league. The SEC, whose teams have won the last six Bowl Championship Series titles, has five of the top 10 teams and leads all conferences with seven teams ranked in the top 25 list unveiled today. LSU got the top ranking despite having received fewer first-place votes than Alabama, which is ranked No. 2. That's a first since the poll began in 1991. Read the full story here.
All the buzz: The New Orleans Hornets announced today that the team will play eight games prior to its Oct. 31 season opener, in a preseason highlighted by a road trip to Mexico City on Oct. 7 to play the Orlando Magic and two home games in New Orleans. The Hornets will play the Charlotte Bobcats at home on Tuesday, Oct. 9, and will also host the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, Oct. 24. See the full schedule and browse ticket options here.
Under the knife: New Orleans Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt says first-team cornerback Jabari Greer will have sports hernia surgery after pulling his groin during practice this week. Vitt says Greer was sent to see a doctor in Philadelphia for the procedure and should return in time for the regular season. Greer came up lame during practice on Tuesday. Rookie receiver Nick Toon, meanwhile, left today's practice with an apparent foot injury, which is being evaluated.