Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Thu, January 31, 2013

Talks on 'Advocate' sale to Georges accelerating

Sources familiar with negotiations between the Manship family and New Orleans businessman John Georges over the possible sale of The Advocate say talks have been accelerated because of publicity surrounding the possible deal, and that purchase agreements could be exchanged within the next two weeks. Sources stress, however, that no firm offer is on the table yet because of the complexities surrounding the deal and the many different ways it could be structured. Though no one knows for sure what The Advocate is worth, given that its financials are not made public, publisher David Manship has said the paper still owes approximately $30 million on the Siegen Lane printing presses it bought several years ago. Sources say that debt will factor prominently into how the deal is structured. According to newspaper analyst John Morton of The American Journalist Review, an industry rule of thumb to determine a newspaper's value is to use a multiplier of between $300 and $500 and apply it to the paper's average daily circulation. Depending on whether The Advocate's New Orleans circulation is included in the calculation, that formula puts the paper's value at anywhere from $25 million to $50 million—not including the debt. —Stephanie Riegel

Parish president's former employer sides against him on Gustav debris dispute

Politics makes strange bedfellows, as the adage goes. On occasion, so do lawsuits. In a recent motion to dismiss a whistleblower lawsuit filed last summer in Baton Rouge federal court against Alvin Fairburn & Associates and others involved in the Hurricane Gustav debris cleanup in Livingston Parish, AFA takes the unusual stand of siding philosophically with the parish council—and against the engineering firm's own former office manager, Parish President Layton Ricks. At issue is the fact that just days after taking office, Ricks stopped payment on a $379,517 check to Corey Delahoussaye's firm, C-Del. That was also around the same time that Ricks issued a $453,000 check to AFA. Neither of those actions was approved by the council. In a curious twist, AFA argues in its motion that Ricks exceeded his authority in stopping the payment to C-Del, although no mention is made of the subsequent check issued to AFA. —Penny Font Read the full story here.

CATS committee begins reviewing recommendations

A CATS committee meeting held today to begin reviewing recommendations recently made by an independent consulting firm ended without any action being taken. Isaiah Marshall, who sits on the CATS board of directors and the F&E Committee that met today, characterized it as "an overview meeting," adding, "There was really no meat that was discussed in detail." The recommendations from TMG Consulting grabbed a lot of headlines, primarily those regarding potential changes to management of the public transit system. But CATS CEO Brian Marshall says most local media reports following the release of the recommendations were not entirely on target, which left the committee meeting today with a lot of questions as they began digging into the report for themselves. "There were some real question marks as far as what the consultant was really saying," says the CEO, who is not related to Isaiah Marshall. The committee today discussed "a lot of the media speculation going on," says Isaiah Marshall, and concluded "that we all need to be committed to the process without allowing the speculation to drive the way things are going." Additional meetings have been set for the coming weeks, he says. "It's difficult for any of us to make a decision [on any of the recommendations] at this point because we have not been provided a cost comparison" on possible changes, says Isaiah Marshall. —Steve Sanoski Read the full story here.

Plan for Nicholson Gateway development made public

A consultant's report detailing plans for LSU's Nicholson Gateway development has been made public and can be seen here. The LSU Board of Supervisors will hear a presentation about the project at its monthly meeting Friday. LSU may develop the project itself, says Steve Waller, director of the Department of Residential Life, or through a public-private partnership. Plans for the mixed-use development along Nicholson Drive include housing, office and retail. The work could begin in 2014, with completion possible by 2017 or 2018. AECOM, an international design, engineering and program management firm, led the creation of the plan after public meetings and stakeholder interviews. Read a recent Real Estate Weekly story for more about the project here.

Methanex addresses second Geismar plant

Despite a Methanex Corp. quarterly report released Thursday in which company officials appeared to confirm reports that it plans to relocate a second methanol plant from Chile to Geismar, a company spokesman says Methanex has not made a final decision on the matter. "We are evaluating the potential relocation of a second plant from Chile to Louisiana and expect to make a decision on this second relocation in the first half of 2013," says Baljit Lalli, communications manager. A line in the company's quarterly report refers to "the second facility that management also intends to relocate to Geismar." Methanex announced in July that it was relocating one plant from Chile to a 225-acre site in Geismar. That plant is expected to be operational sometime in the second half of 2014. "A key area of focus for me as the new CEO will be the successful execution of our value-creating growth projects in Louisiana and New Zealand," says Methanex President and CEO John Floren in the quarterly report. "While we are disappointed with our progress on securing natural gas in Chile, these new initiatives in Louisiana and New Zealand have the potential to add up to three million tonnes of capacity over the next few years, which will enhance supply to our customers and significantly improve cash generation for shareholders." A December Fitch Ratings report on the Vancouver-based company, which is the world's largest supplier of methanol, previously mentioned the potential for a second plant. "Methanex expects to spend approximately $500 million in relocating one plant and roughly $1 billion relocating both," reads the report. Floren notes in the quarterly report: "With over $700 million of cash on hand, an undrawn credit facility, a robust balance sheet, and strong cash flow generation, we are well positioned to invest in the Louisiana project, New Zealand expansion plans and other strategic growth opportunities."

Editor’s note: This story has been changed and updated since its original publication to include comments from a Methanex spokesman.

3 from B.R. make list of South's best food trucks

Three Baton Rouge food trucks are among 47 included on Deep South Magazine's list of the Best Food Trucks in the South, released online today. Dolce Vita, Curbside and Taco de Paco represent the Red Stick on the list, which also includes a handful of trucks from New Orleans and Lafayette. Of Dolce Vita's Romanian-born owner, Bogdan Mocanu, the magazine says: "His passion for gourmet food and dedication to fresh ingredients have many claiming this is the best pizza in Baton Rouge." As for Curbside, Deep South Magazine says "owner/chef Nick Hufft is taking burgers to a new level," adding that the food truck's signature pork belly preserves make it "hard to doubt the claim that 'Curbside makes the best burgers and sausages you've ever put in your mouth!' " Taco de Paco is one of Baton Rouge's longest-running food trucks, the magazine says, noting: "Chef Aaron Brown creates interesting taco combinations with Louisiana-centric ingredients and, according to Baton Rouge food blogger Jay Ducote, is known for going out on a limb with his nachos." Check out the full list here.

Sports roundup: Feds confiscate $13.6M in phony sports goods … Brees wants to bury bounty probe … Ravens moving main practice to grass field

Authentic bust: Investigators have confiscated more than $13.6 million worth of phony sports merchandise over the past five months and expect to seize more in New Orleans during Super Bowl week, says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton. "Operation Red Zone" has led to the confiscation of more than 160,000 counterfeit items, mostly purporting to be official Super Bowl and other NFL merchandise, including jerseys, hats and other souvenirs. A total of 23 people have been arrested on related charges since September 2012. The full story is here.

Time to move on: Drew Brees was a man on the move today as he took on his first full day of Super Bowl-related appearances, and he appeared to be ready to move on from the bitterness of the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, which may have undermined his team's chances of playing for a title on its home field. "We're professionals and we've moved past that in the sense that there's nothing that can be done other than, 'Let's move on and let's find a way to be better next year in spite of it,' " Brees says. "It would be easy to sit here and be angry, but it is what it is." Read the full story here.

The grass is always greener: Unhappy with the hard artificial turf at Tulane University's baseball field, the Baltimore Ravens will hold their main practice today at the Saints' facility instead. The San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens' opponent in Sunday's Super Bowl, already are training at the Saints' complex in nearby Metairie. Because Tulane has broken ground on a new football stadium, the AFC champions were forced to practice in the outfield of the baseball facility Wednesday. Coach John Harbaugh, star linebacker Ray Lewis and several other players say it was "hard on the legs."

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