Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Thu, October 30, 2014

With financing in place, Commerce Building ready for redevelopment

Construction will begin within the next three weeks on the $30 million redevelopment of the historic Commerce Building downtown. The project's developers announced today they have closed on the financing for the project and are ready to begin converting the 59-year-old, vacant office building, which is on the corner of Laurel and North Third streets, into a 93-unit apartment complex with 6,500 square feet of ground-floor retail space.

"We are excited to get started on this project and want to thank the Mayor, Downtown Development District, downtown stakeholders and other elected officials for their continued support," says developer T.J. Iarocci, CEO of Key Real Estate Co. "We look forward to redeveloping this historic building and delivering an unmatched living experience to our future residents."

The Commerce Building project was announced early this year, but it has taken several months to put all the pieces in place because it is being financed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 221(d)(4) loan program. Developers will also use state and federal historic building tax credits.

The 180,000-square-foot Commerce Building was constructed in 1955 and is an example of "international style" architecture. The one-, two- and three-bedroom units will be "luxury loft apartments" that range in size from 603 to 1,500 square feet.

See a gallery of new renderings for the Commerce Building renovation.

Community amenities for residents of the Commerce Building will include a ninth-floor, rooftop workout facility, a rooftop pool, on-site covered secure parking and a private business center. The development will also have a 5,000-square-foot rooftop restaurant on the ninth floor with a view of the river and downtown. Michael Lang, director of development for Key Real Estate, says no restaurant deal has yet been finalized but talks with several potential tenants are underway.

"We are really excited about the new addition on the ninth-floor rooftop, which will have great amenities for the residents … and a restaurant with the best views in the city," Lang says.

The project should be completed by the first quarter of 2016. Milton J. Womack is the general contractor. Eskew+Dumez+Ripple is the architect. —Stephanie Riegel

BR firm partnering with U.S. government supplier to provide Ebola-resistant suits, protective gear

Baton Rouge-based medical supply manufacturer and technology firm Convergence Equity has entered into an agreement with medical materials company TrillaMed to provide new, level three-certified Ebola-resistant suits and protective gear to U.S. government agencies, as well as foreign and domestic health providers.

The companies announced the agreement this morning, but did not disclose financial terms. Convergence Equity says its current inventory of supplies includes more than 3 million suits, gloves, booties and other supplies, adding it has "millions more in its development pipeline." It will provide TrillaMed with more than 1,000 personal protective equipment kits immediately, and it expects to fill thousands of more orders on an as-needed basis. Each kit contains up to 350 complete suits and gear, meaning the initial order of 1,000 kits will allow TrillaMed to provide approximately 350,000 Ebola-resistant protective suits.

Over the next three months, Convergence Equity says it has agreed to provide TrillaMed with up to $100 million in additional gear as needed, with options for more. Based in Michigan, TrillaMed has contracts to distribute products to more than 700 federal government facilities worldwide, including at the Department of Defense, Veterans Affairs, the Department of Energy and more.

"In addition to having quality feedstock available to protect military and medical personnel on the front lines, we are going into full production mode at our facilities in Mexico, Alabama and Taiwan to ensure a global supply in case the Ebola crisis or any other biohazard crisis moves toward pandemic status," says Convergence Equity spokesman Rob Hartwell in a prepared statement. "While we have the situation under close scrutiny here in the U.S., tens of thousands of health professionals and millions of citizens are at risk and are ill-prepared to ward off Ebola without adequate protective gear. We are fighting to alleviate such an intolerable situation." —Steve Sanoski

Editor: The next chapter in the St. George saga

On Oct. 20 organizers of the effort to incorporate the city of St. George submitted to the East Baton Rouge Parish Registrar of Voters the fruits of their labor over these last nine months—a petition with some 18,200 signatures requesting a vote on the controversial incorporation issue.

And as Business Report Editor Stephanie Riegel notes in her new column, one day later, the state Department of Education released its latest report card of school performance scores. "The timing, though purely coincidental, could not have been more fortuitous for the St. George folks, who were able to point to the report card results as yet another reminder of what is really behind their whole movement," Riegel writes.

Though EBR public schools as a whole got a solid C grade—a score of 81.3, which is 1% higher than the 2013 score of 80.3—the number of failing schools in the parish actually doubled this year.

"The rhetoric we've heard over the last year is we're better together and that things are getting better," says St. George spokesman Lionel Rainey. "Well, now we get the report, and not only are things not getting better, but they're getting astronomically worse."

"Statistics being what they are, one can twist the data to make the case that schools are actually getting better, at least as a whole," Riegel writes, pointing to a press release from the EBR school system highlighting the fact that more than half the district's schools increased their performance scores. "As Rainey points out, however, it's equally true that eight schools saw their scores fall from a D to an F, bringing to 16 the number of failing schools in the parish—nearly 20% of the total … That's not acceptable, and it's just the kind of ammunition the St. George supporters need as they transition from a petition drive to a political campaign." Read the full column. Send your comments to [email protected].

La. asks top Ebola researchers who have recently been to West Africa to stay away

Bloomberg is reporting that Louisiana has a message for many of the scientists and medical experts studying Ebola and aiding efforts to fight the deadly virus in West Africa: Stay away.

Louisiana officials on Tuesday sent a letter to members of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene—which is holding its annual conference in New Orleans next week—informing the group that if any of its members have recently been to any of the West African countries where the virus has infected more than 13,000 people, they shouldn't attend the meeting.
"We do hope that you will consider a future visit to New Orleans, when we can welcome you appropriately," says Kathy Klieber, Louisiana's Secretary of Health & Hospitals, and Kevin Davis, director of the Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, in the letter.

The society of researchers, medical professionals and scientists dates back more than a century, according to its website, and has members around the world. The letter disinvites any registrants who've cared for people with Ebola in the last three weeks.
"In Louisiana, we love to welcome visitors, but we must balance that hospitality with the protection of Louisiana residents and other visitors," the state officials say.

There are 3,588 people registered to attend the meeting, though the society doesn't know how many have recently been in Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone, where the outbreak is located.

"We regret that some of our attendees may be affected by the state's travel advisory and we request your cooperation," the medical group says in a letter to its members. Read the full story.

'225 Weekender': Halloween brings full slate of scares, fun to BR

The Capital City does Halloween right, so 225 Weekender recommends you get your costumes ready for a few nights on the town. There's a number of scary/fun events on tap, including 10/31 Consortium's annual Halloween Parade on Saturday at 2 p.m. This year's grand marshal is Smiley Anders. The parade starts at the corner of Government and St. Phillip streets, and will run through downtown Baton Rouge. Other Halloween events around town include the Manship Theatre's annual screening of the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show tonight and Friday at 10 p.m. The 11th annual Louisiana Book Festival will also land in downtown Baton Rouge Saturday. Starting at 10 a.m. literary fans can enjoy discussions on books such as Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story as well as music from Righteous Buddha and much more. Read about all of 225 Weekender's event picks, and be sure to sign up for the free 225 Weekender e-newsletter.

La. tradition of intensely local politicking fading as national issues move to forefront, 'NY Times' suggests

In the latest installment of its "States in Play" series, The New York Times travels to Louisiana to see the various campaign trails firsthand and reports that "voters are finding it hard to get excited about broad-scope campaigns that have left the tradition of intensely local politicking as mostly a fading memory."

The lengthy feature—titled "Louisiana's Rogues Yield to National Issues"—highlights the point by following 6th Congressional District candidate and former Gov. Edwin Edwards as he recently pushed his 1-year-old son in a stroller through a New Roads festival. Plenty of potential voters and glad-handers rushed up to shake his hand.

"For all his color, though, Mr. Edwards, the populist rogue who embodied Louisiana politics from the 1960s to the 1990s, charming one half of the state and mortifying the other, might as well be a ghost," reads the feature. "The main political event this year, the Senate race, could not be further removed from the Edwards era."

"They used to say that the biggest sin in Louisiana politics was to be boring," R. Michael McHale, a lawyer in Lake Charles, tells the newspaper. "Now Louisiana's become more like Washington. To a certain extent, elections aren't even about Louisiana anymore."

"There are reasons for this," the Times writes. "Over the past decade, the bungled government responses to a series of hurricanes, including Katrina, and to the BP oil spill have drained the appeal of entertaining politicians; an aversion to taxes has rendered the old populism model unsustainable; and, perhaps most of all, the effects of 24-hour news channels, national political debates on television, and the Internet have left hyperlocal politicking a mostly fading memory." Read the full feature.

Today's poll question: Do you think Louisiana politicians are less charismatic and charming today than they were in the past?

News roundup: Jindal implores Kentucky voters to re-elect McConnell … Senate candidates sound off on immigration during final debate before election … New crude export campaign launches

On the campaign trail: Speaking to a crowd of about 250 people—who paid $25 each to attend the Restore America Rally in Louisville on Wednesday evening, hosted by conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt—Gov. Bobby Jindal told Kentuckians that they need to make sure that Sen. Mitch McConnell returns to Washington, where he could become majority leader if Republicans take control of the Senate. The Courier-Journal reports Jindal also ripped President Barack Obama, saying he is "beginning to wonder" if Obama is actually smart. Jindal appeared with McConnell at the rally, just days ahead of Tuesday's election in which McConnell faces Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. Read the full story.

At the podium: Less than a week before Election Day, Louisiana voters got their last chance on Wednesday evening to compare the top three Senate candidates side by side. Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu and Republicans Rep. Bill Cassidy and Rob Maness faced off in a final debate that was televised live from LSU. Because it was the final debate platform, WAFB-TV reports, the candidates did not pull punches. While there were familiar campaign messages presented by all three, the topic of immigration was one that elicited a heated response. Read the full story.

Here's the pitch: Free-market economists are launching an initiative today to tout the promise of crude exports, buttressing separate campaigns by oil companies and their allies on Capitol Hill, FuelFix.com reports. With a website, papers and analysis, the new "Unlock Crude Exports" campaign aims to convince policymakers in the White House and Congress that it's time to dismantle the 39-year-old ban on selling most U.S. oil overseas. Margo Thorning, senior vice president of the American Council for Capital Formation, which is funding the campaign, says the change would allow the United States to capitalize on its "energy advantages," as a domestic drilling boom sends oil production to near-record levels. Read the full story.

Sign up for E-Newsletters