Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Tue, April 22, 2014

St. George proponents say 'it looks like we'll make' deadline for November ballot

With exactly three months left until a deadline to get on a November ballot, organizers behind the effort to incorporate a city of St. George say they remain hopeful they can collect the 18,000 validated signatures they need. But they remain tight-lipped about how many they've collected so far, which has led to speculation their effort is losing steam. They say that is not the situation. "If we continue the pace we're on, it looks like we will make it," says Norman Browning, who is leading the movement. "Can I guarantee it? No. But are we on pace for it? Yes." Browning and fellow organizer Lionel Rainey spoke on a variety of St. George-related issues earlier today at the monthly meeting of the East Baton Rouge Parish Chamber of Commerce. Browning says volunteers are collecting about 500 signatures per week, and that the movement has gained steam since state lawmakers filed several bills targeting the incorporation effort. "People are fired up," Rainey says. "It seems like the more the opposition speaks, the more petitions we get because this is really about the right to self-determination." Also stirring the opposition are reports that the Mall of Louisiana and Baton Rouge General Medical Center—two potentially huge sales tax generators for the proposed city of St. George—are planning to petition for annexation into the city of Baton Rouge, which would result in the loss of tax revenues for the proposed city. Rainey concedes annexation would throw off the St. George budget by a lot, though he cannot say by how much. —Stephanie Riegel Read the full story here.

Maritime One building downtown under contract; residential redevelopment likely

A prime piece of downtown real estate—the Maritime One building at the corner of River Road and France Street, adjacent to the Belle of Baton Rouge casino—is under contract for an undisclosed price, and could be redeveloped for residential use. Doug Ferris with RE/MAX First, who represents the New Orleans owners of the property, says he cannot disclose the buyer or discuss any potential plans for the 35,000-square foot, three-story building. But given its location on the riverfront and proximity to the IBM tower under construction nearby, he says the possibilities are exciting. "The potential for residential is very strong," he says. "But it could be many things. It is going to be really neat." The brick building, which was listed for $1.3 million, was originally a warehouse and, in the 1980s, was part of the Catfish Town mixed-use development. In the 1990s, it was used for office space and for a time housed the offices of LED. It has been vacant for several years. Ferris says parking has always been a problem with the property, but he suggests the buyers have a solution in the works. The deal is expected to close in the next 60 days. —Stephanie Riegel

Capitol Views: Workforce discrimination bill deferred

Facing opposition from Louisiana's business lobby as well as conservative organizations, an Iberville Parish lawmaker shelved her bill today to prohibit discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. While the legislation can still be brought back up for a vote, the move essentially places an unmovable lid atop this year's drive to ban employers from making decisions on the basis of not only orientation, but also gender identity and expression. Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, said she filed her HB 887 to level the employment field for gays, lesbians and others. "This is a fairness bill," she added. It was opposed by LABI, the National Federation of Independent Business and the "pro-family" Eagle Forum, among others. LaPolitics has more on the legislation.

—With the author arguing his proposal had nothing to do with decriminalizing marijuana and law enforcement officials from around the state suggesting otherwise, a Senate committee voted 4-3 today to defer legislation that would have declared as a misdemeanor possession of an ounce or less. Before the session convened, Senate Judiciary Chairman Bob Kostelka, R-Monroe, said he wouldn't allow any pro-marijuana bills to escape his committee if he could help it, which he did when members arrived at a tie vote and he broke it by siding against lessening penalties for simple possession. Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, had agreed to an amended version of his SB 323 that called for a $500 fine and possibly six months in prison for possession of an ounce or less, a proposal that would have made it a misdemeanor—"the way it is in practically every other state," said Morrell. For possession of more than an ounce, the failed amendment would have defaulted to the current law which already contains graduated felonies. A number of district attorneys, judges and sheriffs spoke against the proposal, including Calcasieu Parish Sheriff Tony Mancuso, who's also president of the Louisiana Sheriffs' Association. He told lawmakers they should ignore the suggestions that the war on drugs is being lost. "The point is we can't give up," said Mancuso. LaPolitics has more from the debate as well as a brief preview of the coming discussion over medical marijuana.

—The House Transportation Committee resumed its war on Washington (Louisiana, that is) this morning by approving a bill that would effectively shut down the notorious speed trap on Interstate 49 in St. Landry Parish. HB 1233, which passed 11-5, would prevent a municipality's police officer from writing speeding tickets on interstate highways unless at least a half mile in each direction is within the city limits. Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, designed his bill to apply to Washington, whose strict speed enforcement on a small stretch of I-49 has sparked complaints and legislative efforts to curtail the practice. He cited statistics from the Louisiana Municipal Association stating that the town had collected $1.5 million in traffic fines over the past four years, making up the main source of revenue for the town of 1,000. Seabaugh said his bill would not stop city officers from making DWI arrests or even stopping a car for speeding and conducting a search of the vehicle. "They are only prevented from writing speeding tickets," he said. John Gallagher of the Louisiana Municipal Association acknowledged Washington's reputation but objected to the Legislature telling local enforcement how to do their jobs. LaPolitics has more on the Legislature's other speed trap bill, which was rejected by the House recently.

(John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford will publish Capitol Views each afternoon on Daily Report PM through the end of the legislative session. The report is also available to subscribers at LaPolitics.com. Registration is available on the homepage.)

Louisiana Public Broadcasting is providing a daily video update featuring highlights of the session, which you can see beginning at 6 p.m. here.

Bids to be advertised in coming weeks for renovation of former Woman's campus

The city-parish is planning to advertise for construction bids in mid-May on the renovation of the former Woman's Hospital campus on Airline Highway for use as the new Baton Rouge police headquarters and public safety complex, says Jim Frey, special projects architect with the city-parish Department of Public Works. "It'll advertise for 30 to 45 days," Frey says, "and after that we can go to the council with the low bid and then have a notice to proceed." The city-parish recently submitted its plan review application for the project, which Frey says will begin with renovating the six-story "old" physicians tower into an office tower for police administration. William Daniel, chief administrative officer for Mayor Kip Holden, says the city is considering renovating some of the other buildings on the 24-acre site, as well. "We've mostly moved everybody out of the old police headquarters on Mayflower [Street]," he says, "but there are a number of other offices around town we're getting ready to consolidate." While the plan review application lists a provisional estimated cost of $3.9 million for the project, a resolution proposed by the Bond Counsel and up for introduction at Wednesday's Metro Council meeting would limit the costs of renovations and improvements of the campus—addressed at 9050, 9000 and 9048 Airline Highway—to $4.6 million. The Metro Council meets at 4 p.m. on the third floor of City Hall at 222 St. Louis St. See the full agenda. —Rachel Alexander Read the full story here.

DSLD acquires Anselmo Lane subdivision for $2M

Denham Springs-based DSLD Homes LLC, represented by CFO Jeff Purpera Jr., purchased the 41-lot Myrtle Bluff subdivision between Anselmo Lane and Perkins Road for approximately $2 million on Monday, according to land records filed with the East Baton Rouge Clerk of Court. Purpera says DSLD expects to begin construction on the homes in the subdivision—which will range from roughly 1,700 to 2,000 square feet of living area—sometime in June. Prices should range from $200,000 to $240,000, Purpera says. The subdivision, which is located between Essen Lane and Bluebonnet Boulevard, is situated right next to the Lake at Anselmo subdivision, also a DSLD development. "It'll be two different products, though," Purpera says. "[The Lake at Anselmo]'s going to be more contemporary style, and [Myrtle Bluff] is more traditional." The seller in the deal was Anselmo RBC LLC, represented by Ross Bruce. As Daily Report reported last year, Dantin Bruce Companies began developing the 16-acre subdivision into 0.6-acre lots about a year ago. Developer Brian Dantin told Daily Report that the development would be built about 500 yards from Perkins Road, though it would not be accessible from Perkins. —Rachel Alexander

Cook: Shamrock Marine buys BR site for warehouse

A smaller, but interesting real estate deal that closed recently was the purchase of a 15,000-square-foot masonry warehouse at 711 North 14th St. by New Orleans-based Shamrock Marine. The building, which was designed by A. Hays Town and is known by some as the Nabisco Building, was sold last week by Lewis & Lee Inc. At $375,000, the sale price works out to about $25 per square foot. Saurage Rotenberg Realtors Associate Broker and Retail Specialist Carmen Austin brokered the deal. He says the buyer services the marine industries with a floating store, refrigerated fleet supply and a grocery delivery system. With locations in the Baton Rouge harbor and at the 100-mile point in Port Allen, the new facility will help the company continue to expand its operations. Shamrock Marine says on its website that it is the only true mid-stream boat store south of Vicksburg, servicing 95% of the boat industry on the Mississippi River. Austin says the business has been growing, which required the additional warehouse facility.

(Appraiser Tom Cook owns Cook Moore and Associates. Reach him at 293-7006 or TCook@cookmoore.com.)

Andrews: Real estate is still a local investment decision

Gallup recently released its findings on preferences for long-term investments and reports that, on average, "Americans say real estate is the best long-term investment." Upper income Americans—that is, those making $75,000 and over annually—held the strongest opinion on the matter, with 38% identifying real estate as the best investment, even better than stocks, bonds and gold. I read the article twice to make sure that my stockpile of Elvis memorabilia wasn't on the list, and I might be rethinking my self-directed 401(k) as a result. And I'm fairly certain that "real estate investment" is synonymous with buying a home rather than investing in commercial real estate or real estate investment trusts, or REITs. A writer at CNNMoney.com picked up the story and stated, "unfortunately, they're wrong," suggesting that people who invested in their homes have not seen much financial return over the past few years when compared to the national average returns that could have been achieved on the various investment classes over specific time frames. Now, we are all certainly entitled to our opinions, and I particularly respect when an analyst uses data to support a position, but if that data causes people in my community to make potentially poor decisions, I have to speak up. The primary source of the writer's real estate investment information comes from the oft-cited Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, which are "the leading measures of U.S. residential real estate prices, tracking changes in the value of residential real estate both nationally as well as in 20 metropolitan regions." The Case-Shiller indices are reliable sources for analyzing general trends in the national residential real estate market and are invaluable tools for those investing in pools of residential mortgage-backed bonds secured by a geographically diversified mortgage pool. But if a friend asked me about buying a house in Livonia I'm not sure I would pull out the Case-Shiller Index and advise them that, since home prices have been trending poorly in Las Vegas, Tampa and Detroit, they should avoid the investment and buy gold (or my Elvis plates). We should all know by now that real estate investment is driven by local factors, particularly when a huge motivation is that we want to live in the investment, and it is those local factors that should be considered when buying a house. So while the Case-Shiller data is great for certain diversified and national applications, it does not apply to purchase decisions in our local real estate market. So get with a good real estate agent or home builder and buy a house if the time is right for you financially and you feel good about the local market conditions. If you have excess funds after paying your housing costs, then look at national trends for gold, bonds, stocks or a set of slightly used Graceland coffee cups.

(Brian Andrews is assistant director of the Real Estate Research Institute at LSU's E.J. Ourso College of Business. His business is Andrews Commercial Real Estate Services, and he can be reached at brian.andrews@acresllc.com.)

Survey: 9 of 10 La. parents 'satisfied' with scholarship program

The results of a new survey released by a pair of pro-school choice groups says that approximately 92% of Louisiana parents with children participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program are "satisfied" or "very satisfied" with the statewide voucher program. The results of the 2014 Parental Satisfaction Survey were released today by the Louisiana Federation for Children and the Black Alliance for Educational Options. The survey, which included 1,779 respondents—or roughly 27% of parents of the 6,490 students enrolled in the program as of April—says that just 3% of parents say they're "unsatisfied" or "very unsatisfied" with the program. Meanwhile, 92% of respondents also say they're happy with their child's performance at their scholarship school; 99% of parents feel their child is safe at the scholarship school; and 98% of parents feel they and their children are welcome at the school. The Louisiana Scholarship Program is a state-funded tuition program for approved private schools, aimed at low- to moderate-income households with K-12 students who otherwise would attend poorly performing public schools. Nearly 12,000 students applied to participate in the Louisiana Scholarship Program last year, which has 126 participating schools throughout the state. See the complete study. —Staff report

News roundup: BR marketing agency rebrands … US looking into Mexican exports, price of sugar … US fuel exports soar to new milestone

Brand new start: Baton Rouge-based Drift Web Design Inc. has been rebranded as Catapult Creative Media Inc., and the company launched a new website today as part of the rebrand. The firm says its new site at catapultcreativemedia.com represents its evolution from a website design company to a full-service digital advertising and branding agency that began in November. The company was started as a web design and development firm in 2007 by CEO David Maples and his wife, Virginia Huling, who is creative director. Catapult, which is located at 8231 Summa Ave., Ste. A., now offers web design and development, marketing strategy, search engine optimization, search engine marketing and social media management services.

Taking a closer look: The U.S. Commerce Department is investigating allegations that Mexico is exporting far more sugar than it has in the past and selling it in the U.S. at below fair market price. The American Sugar Alliance and other groups asked for the investigation in March, saying imports of sugar subsidized by the Mexican government have cut the price of raw sugar in half since 2011. If findings of the Commerce Department support the claims, the International Trade Commission could impose import duties to make up the difference. The Associated Press has the full story.

Barrel by barrel: The U.S. exported an average 3.5 million barrels per day of petroleum products last year, the U.S. government reported today, a 10% increase from 2012. The Energy Information Administration also notes that in December, the U.S. exported 4.3 million barrels per day of petroleum products, marking the first time those exports exceeded 4 million barrels per day in one month. Distillate fuel exports—which include diesel fuels and fuel oils—reached more than 1.1 million barrels per day, an increase of 110,000 barrels per day over 2012. FuelFix.com has the full story.
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