Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, July 31, 2014

Redevelopment authority moving forward with plans for Entergy site on Government

Plans are moving forward for the redevelopment of the former Entergy site at 1509 Government St., which sits on 6.2 acres between downtown and Mid City. Six design firms have submitted proposals to the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority for the planning phase of the project, which will encompass a broader 103-acre swath of land bordered by Interstate 10, North Boulevard, 19th and Government streets. The Entergy property sits in the center of that area. "We asked the firms to look at the broader area to give us an inventory of residents, demographics and the assets that need to be brought to the area," says RDA President and CEO Walter Monsour. "That will help us determine what we can put at the Entergy site that will ripple out to the whole area." As currently envisioned, the Entergy site will be redeveloped into some sort of mixed-use development with retail and residential components. The RDA secured $275,000 in grant funds for the planning process earlier this summer from the state. The six firms that have submitted bids for the project are Dover, Kohl & Partners, Architects Southwest, Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co., Perez Architecture, Walker Collaborative, and the Design Workshop. A selection committee will meet next week to whittle the proposals down to a short list. The finalists will then present their proposals on Aug. 18 to the RDA board, which will choose a winner. —Stephanie Riegel

Red River Bank buys Home Bank branch on Bluebonnet for $1.35M

Red River Bank has finalized its second purchase of a Baton Rouge bank branch this week by closing on the Home Bank branch at 8810 Bluebonnet Blvd., between Perkins and Highland roads, for $1.35 million. But unlike the Red River purchase of the former Teche Federal Bank at 5063 Essen Lane for $2.4 million, announced Tuesday, bank officials say they're not looking at taking over the Bluebonnet branch. Home Bancorp will continue to lease the space, says Red River Bank Baton Rouge Market President Joanie Montelaro. "Red River doesn't have any immediate plans for utilizing the property," she says. "It's under lease for a couple of years." Still, Montelaro says the property fits well with Red River Bank's expansion plans in Baton Rouge, which include opening the newly acquired Essen Lane location in January 2015 and completing another branch at Acadian-Perkins Plaza later on in 2015. "Longer term, I think [the Bluebonnet] location just really complements what we're doing in the rest of the greater Baton Rouge area," Montelaro says. "It's a good complement to the rest of our branch network." The bank was formerly a Britton & Koontz branch, but it was rebranded after Home Bancorp acquired Britton & Koontz for $35.4 million earlier this year. Grey Mullins, of Grey Mullins Commercial Properties, represented Red River Bank in the deal, for which Dupree Contractors LLC was the seller. —Rachel Alexander

Tighter ozone rules could cost La. $53 billion by 2040, industry group says

Lowering the Environmental Protection Agency's limits on pollution-forming ozone to 60 parts per billion could lower Louisiana's gross state product by $53 billion through 2040, says the National Association of Manufacturers. The change also could lead to 116,983 fewer Louisiana jobs each year through 2040, the association says. "Ozone standards set at this level could break us," says NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons, who conducted a conference call with reporters today. EPA last lowered its ozone standard to 75 parts per billion in 2008, a level less stringent than its scientific advisers had recommended at the time. A science panel advising EPA, which is required by the Clean Air Act to periodically reassess its standards, recently recommended lowering the standard to between 60 and 70 parts per billion. New standards could be issued next year. The Baton Rouge area only last year achieved the 75 parts per billion standard, so stricter levels could put the Capital Region, and much of the state, out of compliance. Current ozone-reduction technology only is available to meet about one-third of the potential new goal, which means certain power plants and vehicles likely would have to be eliminated to comply, NAM says. The association says new standards could be the costliest regulations in U.S. history, reducing national GDP by $270 billion a year, and argues that keeping the ozone standard where it is should remain on the table. —David Jacobs

BR businessman launches website aimed at stirring support for 'fairness ordinance'

If you weren't able to attend last week's standing-room-only, nearly four-hour public hearing on a so-called fairness ordinance that's now under consideration by the Metro Council, a local businessman this morning launched a website featuring a complete transcription of the public comments with links to video segments of the meeting. Logan Leger, co-founder and CEO of local app development firm NewAperio, says he decided to create the fairnessbr.com website the day after he attended the meeting. "I had a very, very deep feeling of being disturbed by what I had seen and heard," says Leger, who supports the ordinance. "I talked to many of my friends about it, some of whom are very devout in their faith, and they were troubled by some of the things I was telling them had been said on their behalf at the meeting. That's what triggered it." Leger says he hopes the website will help those who have not yet been engaged in the community discussion on the fairness ordinance—which would bar discrimination in housing, public accommodations and the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity—form an opinion and become engaged. The clock ran out on last week's meeting before a vote on the ordinance could take place, and the council is expected to take the issue up again at its next regular meeting on Aug. 13. Although the council appeared poised to vote down the ordinance had they been able to vote, Leger says he hopes his new website will motivate concerned citizens who favor the ordinance to contact their representatives on the council and tell them to ultimately vote in favor of it. "This is one of the most important issues in our community right now," Leger says, "and I think it diminishes what I have as a citizen of Baton Rouge if there are classes of people who don't have the same protections and can't enjoy the same benefits of living in this great city as I do." Check out the website. —Steve Sanoski

'Business Report': Growing number of baby boomers taking business ownership through franchises

When Tim Stoll was in his 40s, he envisioned himself climbing the corporate ladder until retiring in his 60s. But after two decades of working for one of Baton Rouge's chemical corporations, the business manager with a Ph.D. in chemistry had a change of heart. "I wanted to have more control over my own financial destiny," Stoll tells Business Report for a feature from the current issue. Now, the 56-year-old works for himself as owner of executive and business coaching franchise The Alternative Board for the Baton Rouge metro area. He bought the territory in 2009 and has 31 small-business clients he coaches one-on-one or through monthly Alternative Board meetings. "The thing that drew me to the franchise opportunity was the fact there were a lot of things that wouldn't have to be reinvented, including the sales and marketing aspect," he says. "That was very different from what I experienced in the chemical industry." He is one among a growing number of baby boomers who are turning to franchises to become business owners at a later stage in their careers. Entrepreneur Source CEO Paul Segreto says the trend of baby boomers' pursuing business ownership—specifically through franchises—has taken off since 2010 for several reasons. "A lot of baby boomers are looking at their retirement funds, and they are not where they want them to be," Segreto says. Read the full feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

'225 Weekender': See Theatre Baton Rouge's 'The Shape of Things'

Neil LaBute's controversial play The Shape of Things is coming to the Capital City. As 225 Weekender reports, LaBute explores in the play how far a man goes for love. Theatre Baton Rouge's production begins Friday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $22. Additional performances take place Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Sunday's show also includes a post-performance discussion. Performances will also take place next weekend. LaBute's play is an R-rated retelling of the fall of man and revolves around a shy, insecure Adam who gets involved with the sexy, aggressive Evelyn. Get more details and the scoop on more events taking place in Baton Rouge this weekend in the new 225 Weekender e-newsletter.

Despite strengthening US job market, many not feeling the recovery

The U.S. unemployment rate has plunged since the start of last year to a five-year low of 6.1%. And The Associated Press reports the July jobs report being released Friday will likely show a sixth straight month of healthy 200,000-plus job gains. Yet for Douglas Hunter and millions like him, happy days aren't quite here again. Hunter earned $14 an hour cleaning oil drums before the Great Recession seized the economy and his job was axed. At 53, Hunter now works three days a week for $9.25 an hour, mopping floors and fixing fryers at two McDonald's restaurants in Chicago. "If the economy is getting better, I'm not sure for whom," he says. "It certainly hasn't trickled down to me." The Gallup Organization has found that consumers' view of the economy is the glummest it has been in seven months. As the economic recovery enters its sixth year, a number of factors help explain why many Americans don't feel better off: Income hasn't rebounded. Millions are working part time even though they want full-time jobs. It's taking longer to find work. People are still struggling with mortgage debt. Some feel down about the economy because of their political views. And most people don't feel free to spend as much as they used to. Read the full story.

Today's poll question: Do you feel that your personal finances and economic outlook have been positively affected by the U.S. economy at large?

News roundup: Spanish power company emerges as possible La. utility buyer … HealthCare.gov has already cost $840M … Energy companies keep taking on debt to finance new projects

Interested parties: Spain's Iberdrola SA has emerged as a contender to buy Louisiana-based power company Cleco Corp., The Wall Street Journal reports, citing anonymous people familiar with the matter. Iberdrola is among a small group of second-round bidders for Pineville, La.-based Cleco, which has a market capitalization of about $3.3 billion and confirmed in June that it was reviewing proposals from interested parties. It is unclear which other bidders remain. If Iberdrola wins the auction for Cleco, it would mark the Spanish giant's third-biggest acquisition behind its $23 billion purchase of Scottish Power PLC in 2007 and its $4.5 billion acquisition of Energy East Corp. in 2008. Read the full story (subscription may be required)

Startup costs: HealthCare.gov, the federal health-exchange website plagued with glitches at its launch, has already cost $840 million to build, according to a Government Accountability Office review of two task orders and one contract related to building the system. The cost overruns were incurred through a combination of inconsistent oversight and constantly changing requirements, according to testimony prepared by GAO Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management William Woods, who is scheduled to testify before a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee today. CBS News has the full story.

On the balance sheet: As oil prices and cash flows remain flat, energy companies are turning to lines of credit and selling off assets to keep up the pace of investment, according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In the year ending March 31, 2014, cash from operations from 127 major oil and gas companies totaled $568 billion while major uses of cash totaled $677 billion, leaving those companies surveyed with a shortfall of nearly $110 billion. To help fill the gap, energy companies took on a cumulative $106 billion in debt and raised $73 billion in sales of assets, FuelFix.com reports. Read the full story.

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