Councilman says EBR can attract private transit system without dedicated tax
Metro Councilman John Delgado says the city-parish can attract a good private transit company to replace the Capital Area Transit System—“hopefully, the best that money can buy”—even without a dedicated tax to pay said company. Delgado hopes the Legislature will agree to dissolve CATS next year, which would end the transit tax that voters approved last year and transfer the agency’s assets to the city-parish. He says the new transit entity would be paid with money from the city-parish general fund and federal sources, adding that it would be the same model used before the tax was approved by voters and implemented. Delgado says a private company would be more efficient, and could take advantage of moneymaking opportunities such as advertising on buses. Supporters of the tax last year called for a dedicated funding stream, arguing that all successful transit services need one. They also backed governance changes for CATS. Voters in Baton Rouge and Baker approved the tax, although Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed the governance changes. Delgado says the city-parish needs public transit, and says it likely always would need to be subsidized by taxpayers in some form. —David Jacobs
Costco land deal could close as soon as today
More than 18 months after signing a $12.1 million purchase agreement, Costco has begun the closing process on the 28-acre tract on Airline Highway that previously housed the Coca-Cola bottling plant. The closing, which is expected to be finalized later today or early Wednesday, clears the way for the warehouse club to begin construction on its 150,000-square-foot Baton Rouge location, scheduled to open in the fall of 2014. The Costco deal has been in the works for nearly six years. The company first came to Baton Rouge to scout for locations in 2007, with plans to open in 2012. The collapse of the real estate market in 2008, however, delayed those plans. "Negotiations on this deal began before I had gray hairs," says Mark Hebert of Kurz & Hebert Commercial Real Estate, which represents Coca-Cola in the transaction. "It has been a long road." In April 2012, Costco signed a purchase agreement on the property, but then lobbied for the creation of a tax increment financing district to help pay for the cost of infrastructure work around the store. The Metro Council approved the TIF in May. The Airline Highway location will be Costco's second in Louisiana. Its first store, in Uptown New Orleans, is scheduled to open later this year.—Stephanie Riegel
La. providing nearly $3M incentive package on Dow's $1B investment in Plaquemine
To help secure the $1.06 billion investment Dow Chemical Company is planning to make in Plaquemine, which was announced earlier today, the state is providing Dow with a $2.84 million Modernization Tax Credit. Along with the tax credit, which is to be claimed over five years, LED is providing workforce development assistance via its FastStart program, and Dow is also expected to use the state's Quality Jobs and Industrial Tax Exemption programs. Dow Louisiana Operations site leader Eduardo Do Val joined Gov. Bobby Jindal to announce the company's plans to build two new polyolefins plants and make capital upgrades to its 3,300-acre complex in Plaquemine. The new plants and upgrades will retain 1,380 existing jobs and create 71 new direct jobs with an average annual salary of more than $49,000 per year, plus benefits, officials say. LED estimates the project will also result in an additional 470 new indirect jobs, for a total of 541 new jobs. An estimated 1,200 construction jobs will be created by the work, as well as 150 contractor jobs to support the new facilities. One of the new plants is being built to produce next-generation synthetic rubber, and the second is for a high-performance polyethylene. Ground is expected to be broken on both by the end of the year. Jindal's website has more details on today's announcement.
Maginnis: Vitter's friends thinking ahead to 2015 for him
"Many folks in politics, if they found themselves deep in the swamp in the same boat with David Vitter and an angry alligator, would be uncertain as to which one to keep a closer eye on," John Maginnis writes in his latest column. "But for some major Vitter contributors, what lies ahead on Sept. 5-7 is an 'exciting adventure in swamps and bayous of south Louisiana!' for which they will pay $5,000 each in expectation of Cajun cooking, an airboat swamp tour and alligator hunt, according to the invitation. Vitter is the "special guest" at the "Louisiana Bayou Weekend," hosted by the Fund for Louisiana's Future, a super PAC formed this year to support the U.S. senator in a future state or federal election, to be determined. While the hybrid fundraiser further fuels speculation that he plans to run for governor in 2015, Maginnis notes that Vitter professes the thought has barely crossed his mind. "I'm not thinking about it," Vitter said recently. "Will I be thinking about it in a year? I honestly don't know because I haven't even started thinking about whether I want to think about it." So, Maginnis says, it's good that he has a friend like Charlie Spies to think about it for him. "The high-powered Washington attorney, who last year headed presidential candidate Mitt Romney's super PAC Restore Our Future, has formed the new group to support Vitter 'in his future endeavors,'" Maginnis writes. Read the full column.
Vitter says 'world community' may need to act in Syria
Sen. David Vitter says the United States, as part of an international coalition, should act if it can be demonstrated that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons. He says he would not support putting American "boots on the ground," however. "I certainly agree with [Secretary of State] John Kerry—and I don't say that a lot—that the use of chemical weapons there are deplorable," he says. "Collectively, the community of civilized nations needs to do something about it." Vitter reiterated today his position to not vote for any measure that would fund the federal government past Sept. 30 if it included money for implementation of the Affordable Care Act, but says he was not concerned that other Louisiana Republicans, including Baton Rouge Congressman Bill Cassidy, are reluctant to make the same commitment. "I honestly think that's a fight that folks on the left are trying to create," he says, adding that he and his colleagues "are on exactly the same page to do whatever we can to delay, repeal, defund, all of the above Obamacare." Vitter received a warm reception today as guest speaker at a Chamber of Commerce of East Baton Rouge Parish luncheon. He urged attendees to support Cassidy over current Sen. Mary Landrieu in next year's election, saying Louisiana could be a "battleground state for the Senate." —David Jacobs
More land near Alexander's Highland Market sells for $1.28 million
A second parcel of land near the new Alexander's Highland Market development on Highland Road has been sold for future development. According to records filed with the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court, Highland Marketplace, represented by manager Brian Campbell, sold for $1,280,126 a parcel of land to Summa Professional Office Park and OPHM on Friday. Summa Professional, which is represented by John Michael Burdine, also recently purchased from Highland Marketplace another piece of land in the area for $810,634. The group partnered with a KFI, represented by George Kurz, in that sale. Kurz is also the listed representative for OPHM. Kurz recently told Daily Report that three new retail developments with a collective 72,000 square feet of space are planned for around Alexander's Highland Market, which opened in March. Kurz says he cannot provide any specifics on signed tenants for the developments at this time. Meanwhile, Investar Bank purchased in mid-July a parcel of land in front of Alexander's Highland Market on which it plans to build a new branch. —Steve Sanoski
'Real Estate Weekly': $18 million B.R. estate being marketed internationally; see online photos
It's not surprising to local real estate agents who handle high-priced home sales that Paula Pennington de la Bretonne's compound on Highland Road has not yet sold, despite being on the market since last October. After all, as Real Estate Weekly reports, with an asking price of $18 million, the 12.5-acre estate—which includes a five-bedroom, 41,000-square foot main house and several smaller other structures—is the most expensive home ever listed in this market. That's why a Manhattan-based real estate firm is now sharing the listing with de la Bretonne's daughter, Shannon Smith, who has been marketing the property since it went up for sale last fall. Douglas Elliman Real Estate—whose other listings at the moment include a $22 million residence on New York's Upper East Side, a $15 million residence on Madison Avenue, and a $50 million condo on Miami Beach—began listing the property Aug. 23. "We just have more global contacts who might be in the market for that kind of property," says John Musso, Elliman's listing agent. "We do a lot of stuff in New York at that price point and have a lot potential buyers in London, Saudi Arabia—places like that." Would a London or Saudi buyer want a home in Baton Rouge? That, say local agents, will be the biggest challenge in selling the property. "People aren't going to just move to Baton Rouge because they fall in love with a house," says Quita Cutrer of Burns & Company, who handles many high-end homes in the city. "People are going to move to Baton Rouge if they have a connection here, a reason." View a listing of the compound with photographs, and check out the new Real Estate Weekly e-newsletter. —Stephanie Riegel
La. seeks to attract retirees, further promote culture
Several Louisiana cities recently have appeared on national lists of the best places to retire, and that's happened without a strong marketing push, says Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, who hopes to build on the good press with the state's Retire Louisiana Style campaign. "Let's go get 'em," says Dardenne, who addressed the Louisiana Travel Promotion Association today in Baton Rouge. He says the campaign's early focus will be veterans. Dardenne also says he wants to put greater focus on the state's creative class, using the "Only in Louisiana" slogan to supplement the familiar "Pick Your Passion." "[With] all of the attributes Louisiana has to offer, we simply need to share them with people, and they're going to come," he says. "We have a strong argument that Louisiana is the birthplace of all American music." He says his office, which is responsible for promoting tourism, is providing small grants to Louisiana musicians in exchange for them urging their audiences out of state to visit. Dardenne also is trying to stir up "Louisiana Music Madness" by urging people to pick their favorite Louisiana song. Dardenne says the state should maintain a dedicated fund to attract major sporting events, and suggests New Orleans potentially could seed the fund in lieu of paying back some of the money it owes the state for loans made after Hurricane Katrina. "You've got to pay to play," he says. —David Jacobs
News roundup: LSU ranked no. 6 nationally for college merchandise sales … Intermittent downtown street closures today, I-110 ramp closure tonight for filming of 'Left Behind' … Visit Baton Rouge launches new video series featuring Mo Isom
Dressed for success: LSU fans forked over more money on licensed merchandise last year than most of their counterparts in the SEC—or in the U.S. for that matter. According to new rankings from the Collegiate Licensing Company, LSU ranked sixth in the nation in terms of total dollars spent on college-licensed merchandise—ahead of every other SEC school except Alabama, which ranked second on the list. Although spending figures for individual schools were not available, total spending across the country topped $4.62 billion.
Action! Filming of the movie Left Behind will cause the closure of several downtown streets intermittently today, and also shutter the Interstate 110 ramp at Florida Boulevard beginning around 8 p.m., city-parish officials say. Filming is scheduled to take place downtown on Third Street, between North Boulevard and Convention Street, until about 7 p.m. Traffic will be halted temporarily while the cameras are rolling. Parking will also be restricted along the 100 and 200 blocks of North Third Street, the 300 block of Convention Street and the 100 block of Lafayette Street.
Talk of the town: Visit Baton Rouge has launched a series of video vignettes highlighting local landmarks. Hosted by former LSU soccer star Mo Isom, the videos are available online at the Visit Baton Rouge website and on YouTube. The first three "webisodes" feature Nottoway Plantation, Restaurant IPO and the Manship Theatre. Additional vignettes will be released weekly, Visit Baton Rouge says, and they will focus on other local destinations such as the USS Kidd, L'Auberge Casino, Bayou Country Superfest and the Tin Roof Brewing Co.