Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Fri, February 15, 2013

RDA ready to sell 105 properties to nonprofits

The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority plans to sell 105 parcels to four nonprofits for residential development. James Andermann, real estate director for the RDA, identified the nonprofits: Habitat for Humanity (nine parcels), the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance (seven), the Jarvis Green Foundation (35), and the National Housing & Community Development Organization (54). The total appraised value of the lots is $693,200. All of the lots have been adjudicated for years, even decades, Andermann says, and have been transferred by the city-parish to the authority's land bank. "We now have an efficient turnkey program to be able to take adjudicated properties, clean the title, and provide clean policies to a third party for them to be able to build new construction," Andermann says. The goal is removing blight and returning properties to viable uses. The properties primarily are in the RDA's community improvement and special project areas, including Mid City, Old South Baton Rouge, Valley Park, Scotlandville, Zion City, Melrose East and the Choctaw Drive corridor. The RDA estimates that a minimum of 58 housing units will be constructed, although the number could be higher, as some of the sites may be large enough to accommodate multifamily projects. The target market will be people who make no more than 80% of the median income. The RDA's board of commissioners will consider the sales at its next meeting, 9 a.m. on Feb. 19 at 801 North Boulevard. —David Jacobs

White's attorney: Holden's micromanagement of BRPD evident in emails

As the war of words escalates between Mayor Kip Holden and fired Baton Rouge Police Chief Dewayne White, White's attorney says an email exchange between the two illustrates the counterproductive ways in which Holden was micromanaging the police department. Specifically, the email shows that three days before he was fired, White alerted the mayor to a disciplinary action he was taking against a white police officer for uttering a racial slur at the scene of a homicide. Jill Craft, White's attorney, says the email was sent because the police chief was verbally ordered by the mayor about a month before his firing to run all personnel and disciplinary matters through the mayor's office first. But the mayor's office denies White's claim and says White was free to issue disciplinary measures himself. "I guess he sent that [email] as a heads up," says Chief Administrative Officer William Daniel, who also insists that the officer isn't a high-ranking officer in the police union. "I don't even know who the police officer was; he was in the homicide unit." Craft, however, says it wasn't the only personnel decision White had briefed the mayor on in the weeks leading up to his firing. "[Holden] was micromanaging the entire department, and it wasn't just this disciplinary action, it was several of them," Craft says. —Adam Pearson

Local welder buys bigger digs in Prairieville

If you don't travel the Airline Highway corridor in Prairieville, the sale of an $825,000 warehouse to a welding supplier might not strike you as particularly noteworthy. But broker Mark Hebert, who handled the deal for both the buyer—Diversified Materials and Consulting—and the seller, says the sale of the 12,000-square-foot building on the corner of Airline and La. 73 is significant because of other recent developments near the high-growth intersection. "What's incredible about this building is that in my entire career it has been the most called-on listing I have ever had," says Hebert. Other new and expanding businesses around the same intersection are Sammy's, RaceTrac Petroleum and Ochsner, which is adding on to its Prairieville clinic. "There is stuff going on all around there." The new owner of the building, Diversified Materials and Consulting's Daryl Roden, says he likes the location for his welding supply business because of its convenience and proximity to his old location. The company Roden and his wife, Susan, founded 19 years ago had outgrown its previous location on La. 44 in Gonzales. Roden paid $68.75 per square foot for the warehouse. It sits on 2.5 acres and had been empty since 2009 when it housed a service door company. —Stephanie Riegel

Jindal proposes reforms for juvenile justice system

Gov. Bobby Jindal has unveiled several reforms he will pursue during the upcoming legislative session that are intended to help Louisiana's at-risk youth and reduce recidivism rates for juveniles and nonviolent drug offenders. The proposed juvenile justice reforms include streamlining the system of care for youth currently in the juvenile justice system and also strengthening programs to help at-risk youth on the front-end so that they do not end up in the juvenile justice system. The sentencing reform proposals include moving to more effective community-based alternatives to incarceration—under the supervision of the Department of Corrections—as a way to treat nonviolent, non-sex, and nonhabitual drug offenders. "With these reforms, we can help at-risk youth on the front-end so that they can avoid a future of incarceration and instead become productive members of society," Jindal says in a written release. "Providing our children with community-based support before they fall through the cracks will go a long way toward strengthening our communities and keeping our kids out of trouble." Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III was unfamiliar with the proposed legislation but says his initial reaction is positive. "Anything we can do to help at-risk kids is surely welcome," says Moore. "We have a lot of programs in Louisiana that are designed to help kids, and I realize money is extremely tight, so I'm glad to see we will put some money into the at-risk kids." To learn more about Jindal's proposals, click here.

State jobless claims down

The state's jobless rate continues to decline. First-time unemployment claims for the week ending Feb. 9 decreased to 2,829 from the previous week's total of 3,126, or about 9.5%. That's also about 10% fewer first-time jobless claims than the comparable week one year ago. Meanwhile, the four-week moving average of initial jobless claims decreased to 3,177 from the previous week's average of 3,591; and continued unemployment claims fell to 29,781, which is 25% fewer than in the same period one year ago. "We are one of only two states in the South that have more people employed than in 2008," says economist Loren Scott, who attributes the positive trend to the low price of natural gas. "It's fueling an industrial expansion unlike anything I have ever seen here before, and it's one I expect to continue." —Stephanie Riegel

Reality sets in: Trina Edwards is expecting

Edwin Edwards and his wife, Trina, now have a reality show and a baby on the way. Trina Edwards announced via Facebook Friday, "As of today I am officially allowed to make that announcement I've been dying to make. … WE ARE EXPECTING!!" The 85-year-old, four-term former governor and his 34-year-old wife just celebrated the end of his probation last week, which followed a 10-year prison sentence on federal corruption charges. They are also working on a reality show for A&E titled The Governor's Wife. Initially slated to premiere this month, the show was pushed back twice, now to a summer date. No word on when the Edwards baby is expected, though initial reports of Trina Edwards' pregnancy surfaced last month. She has a teenage son from a previous marriage; he has two daughters nearly twice her age. —Benjamin Leger

Downtown looking for daytime business boost

When is a pharmacy not just a pharmacy? When a lot of eyes and hopes are on it as a touchstone for future downtown development, both commercial and residential. On the heels of high-profile bar and restaurant openings like Blend, City Bar, Restaurant IPO, The Office and the upcoming Bar Blanc, Third Street is bustling with nightlife. What will it take for downtown's daylife to catch up? This month, local pharmacists T.J. and Aimee Woodard are set to open Prescriptions to Geaux near the corner of Third and Florida streets, two doors down from the Our Lady of the Lake walk-in clinic. The pharmacy's success could be a strong indicator of the future viability of residential and retail growth in the Central Business District. "I wasn't sure about the idea for a location, but several of my former classmates work downtown and expressed interest in a pharmacy there," says T.J. Woodard, a Bossier City native with an MBA from LSU. "The more I looked into it, I saw a real opportunity." Read how downtown Baton Rouge is growing businesses in this month's 225 by clicking here.

Is your company prepared for health care reform?

Health care reform is a reality, and the new world for business begins this year. To help prepare companies for these new rules and regulations, Business Report is hosting a Health Care Reform Forum on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. The forum will explore how employers, employees and bottom lines will be impacted by new health care legislation. Forum panelists will include: Andy Impastato, vice president, client compliance, BancorpSouth Insurance Services/Wright & Percy; Michael Bertaut, health care economist/exchange coordinator, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana; Dr. Stephanie Mills, president & CEO of Franciscan Health and Wellness, Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Health System; William Potter, senior tax director, Postlethwaite & Netterville; and Patrick Seiter, chair of the health care practice team, Taylor Porter law firm. Following the forum, there will be two breakout sessions that explore how the legislation will impact employers with 50 or more employees, one that looks at the impact on firms with fewer than 50 employees, and a session that looks at innovative solutions to reduce health care spending and improve employee health. The event will begin at 7:30 a.m., with the forum running from 8 to 9:15 a.m. and the breakout sessions beginning at 9:30 a.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.

News roundup: Fort Polk faces uncertain future … Outside expert to evaluate Super Bowl blackout … Pearl River level closes hunting

On shaky ground: Officials in central Louisiana fear that Fort Polk, the state's largest military installation, will lose 5,300 troops in coming years under an ongoing U.S. Army internal assessment. That would mean Fort Polk, which is in Vernon Parish, would lose more than half the number of troops currently stationed at the 200,000-acre Army post, which officials say has an economic impact of $1.7 billion. To read more from nola.com, click here.

Shedding some light: Three entities—Entergy; the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, the state agency that owns the Mercedes-Benz Superdome; and SMG, the management company that operates the stadium—have jointly hired an outside engineer to determine what caused the 34-minute power outage that brought Super Bowl XLVII to a halt. Nola.com reports that John Palmer, a forensic engineer based in Utah, was contacted by the city's utility Friday about leading the investigation. You can read the full story here.

Washed out: State wildlife and fisheries regulators say all hunting seasons, except waterfowl, on the Pearl River Wildlife Management Area will be closed today, when the river stage at Pearl River reaches 16.5 feet. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says the closure on the wildlife management area in southeastern St. Tammany Parish will remain in effect until the river drops below that level. Officials say the gate at Old U.S. Highway 11, a primary access point to the area, also will be closed.

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