Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Thu, November 29, 2012

Two Spanish Town apartment buildings to be bought in December, developer says

After nearly two years of trying to make the numbers work, developer John Schneider is finally ready to buy two historic but badly dilapidated apartment buildings in the 600 block of Spanish Town Road. Schneider says a late December closing is set for the sale of the 1920s-era buildings that were the subject of a showdown about three years ago between preservationists who fought to save them and property owner Stuart Nixon, who wanted to raze them after a fire ravaged one of the two. Schneider says the deal has taken longer than expected to come together because the price of properly restoring the architecturally significant structures is so high—even given $250,000 of state historic tax credits he is expecting to earn in the renovation process. "It will take $800,000 to renovate them, and the buildings only appraise at $650,000, so that has been the challenge," he says. "The easiest thing to do would be to tear them both down and start over." But Schneider, who has a track record of renovating historic properties downtown, says he wants to help the neighborhood and believes in the long run the risk will have been worth taking. "You hate to say this is a loss leader, but that is pretty much the approach we are taking. You are doing something that will help bring you the next project," he says. Schneider says he has two equity partners in the deal; he declined to divulge the agreed upon sale price. —Stephanie Riegel

Perlis buys Cohn Turner, has no immediate plans for rebranding

New Orleans clothing store Perlis announced today it has purchased the Cohn Turner store in Baton Rouge at 8366 Jefferson Hwy., but says there are no immediate plans to rebrand the store. "We are committed to serving Cohn Turner's existing loyal customer base and continuing to meet their expectations concerning the quality of merchandise offered in fashion, business, and formal attire," says David Perlis, president of Perlis. "Our intent is to provide a broader range of clothing in the realms of dress casual and sportswear, as well as an expanded choice of lifestyle accessories." However, Perlis brand clothing—which in most cases features Perlis' distinctive crawfish logo—will begin to be sold at Cohn Turner. "Baton Rouge has been our home for generations, and we are proud to be able to continue serving our customers through the Perlis brand," says Ed Bernstein, general manager of Cohn Turner. "The phase-in of the Perlis brand will take place gradually, so we foresee this process as being a smooth one—most importantly for our valued customers." While there will be no immediate rebranding of Cohn Turner, Perlis officials have not ruled out the option of doing so in the future, depending on sales. Perlis currently has three stores in the New Orleans area. The first one opened 75 years ago. Perlis says it acquired Cohn Turner to expand its reach across south Louisiana with "excellent service and long-term relationships with customers." Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. —Adam Pearson

LSU ranked No. 9 among most dangerous U.S. campuses

Citing statistics from FBI Uniform Crime Reports, Business Insider magazine says the flagship LSU campus in Baton Rouge is the ninth-most dangerous college campus in the United States. According to the FBI statistics, there's an average of 26 violent crime incidents on the LSU campus each year and about 474 property crimes. "There were an alarming 22 robberies in 2011, among other violent crimes," notes Business Insider, adding that it averaged FBI crime data per capita from 2008 to 2011 for campuses with 10,000 students or more to create the rankings. (The LSU campus is listed as having 29,451 students in the report.) While LSU Police Department Public Information Officer Capt. Cory Lalonde says the statistics cited in the report are accurate, but adds they can also be misleading. "Yes, we did have 22 robberies last year, but over half of those incidents were cell phone thefts" that were not armed robberies, he says. "We also do have a lot of vehicle burglaries, but most of them are not break-ins; they're incidents in which someone has left their doors unlocked. We're not immune to crime on campus—it's going to happen—but the great majority of crimes we see on campus are crimes of opportunity." With an average of 49 violent crimes per year and 921 property crimes, the University of California–Los Angeles is ranked as the nation's most dangerous college campus. You can check out the complete rankings here. —Steve Sanoski

Officials open new Magnolia River Bridge in Greenwell Springs

Gov. Bobby Jindal joined other state and local officials in Greenwell Springs today to mark the completion of the new La. 64 Magnolia River Bridge connecting East Baton Rouge and Livingston parishes. The four-lane bridge spanning the Amite River cost $19.9 million to build and replaces a former two-lane bridge crossed by an estimated 26,000 drivers each day. Jindal says completion of the project, which also includes the widening of La. 64 from Greenwell Springs Road to La. 1019, "will improve safety for drivers, speed up commutes and make the Capital Region more accessible to the rest of the state and the country." The new bridge has two 12-foot travel lanes in each direction and outside shoulders measuring 10 feet wide. The governor has more details about today's ribbon cutting at his website here.

'WSJ': La. voucher case highlights the 'bizarre world' we live in

The judge in a Baton Rouge trial challenging Gov. Bobby Jindal's statewide school voucher program told lawyers today he didn't think testimony was needed, even as testimony continued into its second day. Judge Tim Kelley's comments reinforced expectations he will rule on the constitutionality of the program as soon as lawyers wrap up with their witnesses. He has said he expects to hand down a ruling by the end of the week. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports the case is an example of "the bizarre world in which we live." To sharpen the point, the newspaper highlights the experience of Gabriel Evans of New Orleans. It says Evans attended an "F"-rated public school in 2007, then moved to a Catholic school a year later. "His mother, Valerie Evans, calls the voucher a 'lifesaver,' allowing him to get 'out of a public school system that is filled with fear, confusion and violence,' " reads the report. "So what is the response of the teachers union? Sue the state to force 11-year-old Gabriel back to the failing school." The Wall Street Journal concludes that the case in Louisiana is just the "latest study in how far the education bureaucracy will go to protect its money and power and resist the competition that comes from school choice, even when it means forcing kids to return to schools that steal their futures." You can check out the story in its entirety here.

Retailers report weak sales gains for November

Black Friday was apparently no match for Superstorm Sandy. Major retailers from Target to Macy's are today reporting weak November sales, as the strong start to the holiday shopping season—including a good showing on the day after Thanksgiving—wasn't enough to fully offset the damage caused by Sandy earlier in the month. The storm stunted enthusiasm among shoppers in the Northeast during the first couple of weeks of November just as stores were preparing for the busiest shopping period of the year: a roughly two-month stretch at year's end when they can make up to 40% of their annual revenue. "It really took away the punchbowl for retailers and put them behind the eight ball heading into the crucial weekend," says Ken Perkins, president of research firm RetailMetrics. Eighteen retailers today reported that November sales at stores open at least a year—an indicator of a retailer's health—through last Saturday were up 1.7% compared with the year-ago period, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Nonetheless, that's well below the group's anticipated forecast for a 4.5% to 5.5% gain. However, today's reports are just a peek at how the retail industry is doing. Only a small group of stores representing about 13% of the $2.4 trillion U.S. retail industry report monthly revenue—and the list excludes big merchants such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's biggest retailer. But the data offers a snapshot of consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of all economic activity. More details can be found in the full story here.

Sports roundup: Mathieu entering NFL draft … Bama fan gets two years after pleading guilty to assaulting LSU fan … ATL probing egg-throwing incident with Saints' bus

Looking up: Former LSU defensive back Tyrann Mathieu announced today his plan to enter the next NFL draft. In a statement announcing the decision, Mathieu says, "It is time for me to move forward." Mathieu thanked his parents and LSU coach Les Miles in his statement, as well as his former Tiger teammates. "I am sorry that I was not able to complete my journey at LSU, but I will always support LSU in any way I can. To my teammates, you are my brothers. You have kept me going. I will do my best to make you all proud of me," he says. ESPN has the full story here.

Time to move on: An Alabama football fan got a dressing-down today and two years in prison for obscenity caught in a viral video with an unconscious LSU fan after last year's BCS championship game. In New Orleans, State District Judge Karen Herman told Brian Downing of Smiths Station, Ala., that he's a bully who has permanently damaged someone else's life. Downing declined to say anything before the judge sentenced him as part of a plea deal. The full story is here.

Welcome to Atlanta: The Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has confirmed eggs were thrown at the New Orleans Saints' bus shortly after the team's airplane landed there Wednesday night, The Times-Picayune reports. It has been reported that airport workers threw eggs at the bus, but airport administrators will confirm only that airline workers were on the ramp in the area. The Saints (5-6) are in Atlanta to take on the Falcons (10-1), their biggest rival, in a game tonight that kicks off at 7:20 p.m. Click here.

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