Daily Report

This Morning's Headlines / Wed, April 23, 2014

Fate of downtown home could be decided by La. Realtors Association next week

The Louisiana Realtors Association should have a final decision next week on whether to move forward with plans to demolish a historic home on Main Street downtown to make way for a new headquarters building or, instead, to do an adaptive reuse of the property. Representatives from the agency met this morning with the city's Historic Preservation Commission to brief them on the status of the situation, which was more of a courtesy than anything else. The HPC has no say so over the future of the 93-year-old home, located at 821 Main St., because it sits outside the boundaries of the Spanish Town historic district. "We feel it is prudent to meet with as many stakeholders as possible," says Norman Morris, CEO of the LRA. "It was just an opportunity for them to find out from us where we are in the process." The LRA is considering three options: demolishing the house and building a new structure on the property, as originally planned; restoring the house and adding on to it; or abandoning the site altogether and searching for a new location. The organization signed a purchase agreement in early March for the home, which is owned by Collis Temple. Upon signing the purchase agreement, LRA announced plans to demolish the home and rebuild a new headquarters on site. However, after receiving some negative feedback on the plans from local preservationists, the association announced it would rethink its plans for demolishing the home. Morris said he couldn't say which way the group is leaning at this point, adding the board is still awaiting final numbers before making a decision, which should come very soon. —Stephanie Riegel

Land deal suggests Audubon Park Apartments project moving forward in Zachary

Audubon Park Apartment Homes LLC—represented by George Walker III—has purchased approximately 13.5 acres off La. 64, just west of Old Scenic Highway in Zachary, for about $1.3 million, suggesting the first phase of the previously announced 50-acre Mt. Pleasant development may be getting underway. As detailed in plans submitted to the East Baton Rouge Planning and Zoning Commission in 2011, Mt. Pleasant includes three phases, the first of which includes a multifamily apartment complex on a 13.5-acre tract, complete with 12 two-story and three-story apartment buildings as well as a 3,600-square-foot clubhouse, fitness center, business center and swimming pool. City-parish officials say they have not received any further development plans or applications regarding the project since 2011, but the Audubon Park Apartment complex is listed as a proposed development in the multifamily section of the report for this year's TRENDS in Real Estate Seminar, which describes the project as a 182-unit upscale/luxury market-rate complex expected to complete construction within the next year. Later phases of the Mt. Pleasant project include 17 acres of commercial and office development, 8.5 acres of single-family residential, and 11 acres of common area. The seller in the Audubon Park land deal was Heritage Acquisition Company LLC, also represented by George Walker III, who could not be reached for comment on the deal. —Rachel Alexander

Baton Rouge Music Studios to double space with move to Burbank Crossing

Baton Rouge Music Studios—a music performance and entertainment technology academy located off of Hillary Court across from the Bluebonnet Regional Branch Library—has filed a plan review application with the city-parish Department of Public Works to remodel its future location in the Burbank Crossing shopping center next to Hibbett Sports. At approximately 4,000 square feet, BRMS' new Burbank location is double the size of its current studio and will provide the academy the space to further develop its Young Band Nation program—a collaboration between BRMS and Southwest Louisiana Music Studios in Lake Charles that promotes music education and community-building among Louisiana youth—as 225 magazine reported earlier this month. "I knew we had to grow gradually, but there was always this nagging desire to have a community center, a haven for misfits—the kids who want to be in the school band, or those who love to sing but don't want to be in musical theater or choir," BRMS founder Doug Gay told 225. "However, we can't develop the systems we need to develop these musicians without this physical space." According to the plan review application, the remodel of that space is projected to cost $40,000, a cost BRMS hopes to offset through its campaign on international crowdfunding site Indiegogo. Blueprints on BRMS' campaign page show plans for a large performance venue, seven instructional rooms, two recording studios and an engineering room. The campaign has raised over $15,000 since starting less than a month ago and will run through May 12. —Staff report

Medicaid expansion debate to take center stage at Capitol today

Louisiana's fight over whether or not to participate in the federal expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act takes center stage at the Capitol today, with a Senate committee scheduled to take up Senate Bill 96 by Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, which would place a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot allowing voters to decide the matter. Gov. Bobby Jindal opposes the expansion. Groups on both sides of the debate issued statements and figures in advance of this morning's hearing, arguing their points one more time in the long-running debate. The Louisiana Budget Project, a left-leaning organization that supports Medicaid expansion, says in a report released late Tuesday that "the seven-parish Baton Rouge metro area could see an influx of $1.9 billion in new federal health funding over 10 years" if the expansion is approved. Statewide, LBP says expanding Medicaid would improve public health and help economies in every region of the state, bringing more than $16 billion over 10 years to the state in support of 15,600 new jobs. But the Republican Party of Louisiana points in an email this morning to an analysis by the state Department of Health and Hospitals, which found that by expanding Medicaid the state would be liable for as much as $2 billion in additional costs over the first 10 years. "171,000 individuals who already have private health insurance coverage would be forced onto the state-financed system," the state GOP adds. —Staff report

Today's poll question: Do you want Louisiana lawmakers to put a Medicaid expansion proposal on the Nov. 4 ballot to allow voters to decide the matter?

'Business Report': Battle between 'Advocate' and 'Times-Pic' over legal notices goes to Capitol

In a legislative session dominated by debates over the hot-button issue of Common Core, a series of bills that would change state law to allow The New Orleans Advocate to compete for government classified ads in Orleans and Jefferson parishes hasn't made big headlines. But then, as Editor Stephanie Riegel notes in a new Business Report magazine feature, newspapers often shy away from calling attention to themselves. "Still, the proposed legislation—which would remove the requirement that a newspaper publish in a parish for five years before it can bid on public and legal notices in Orleans and Jefferson—is worth following as it makes its way through the legislative process," writes Riegel. For one thing, it's the latest skirmish in the ongoing media war between the state's two largest newspapers. They've been locked in competition since the fall of 2012, when The Advocate entered the New Orleans market and began aggressively going after subscribers and advertisers of The Times-Picayune, which had reduced its print publication to three days a week. The Advocate is openly pushing for the legislation. The Times-Picayune is opposing it. "More significantly, though, the proposed legislation and the political jockeying over it raise questions about hypocrisy on the part of these two major newspapers," Riegel writes. "Both have employed powerful lobbyists to take up their cause over a state law that could send lucrative, public advertising contracts their way. Isn't that the kind of wheeling and dealing newspapers are quick to criticize other businesses and interest groups for engaging in?" On Tuesday, the House approved HB 787, which would allow The Advocate to compete for the legal notices in the New Orleans area. That bill now moves to the Senate, which is also considering another similar bill on the matter. Read the full feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

La. Senate race putting big businesses in political quandary

America's biggest businesses have made it a priority to help Republicans win control of the Senate this year. But as The Wall Street Journal reports this morning, in Louisiana's hotly contested race for Sen. Mary Landrieu's seat, Republicans are doing all they can to help the Democratic incumbent. "The political arms of large corporations have given nearly five times as much money to Sen. Mary Landrieu as to her Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy," the newspaper reports, citing fundraising data it has compiled and analyzed. "Landrieu's campaign puts Washington's business lobby in a classic political quandary. While they badly want Republicans to win a Senate majority, business leaders also remain loyal to the centrist three-term Democrat who has crossed the aisle dozens of times to support their priorities, including President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cuts and the Keystone XL pipeline." Businesses' support for Landrieu is creating some tensions within the Republican establishment. Rob Collins, the head of the group running the Senate Republicans' election efforts, says he talks frequently to major companies and trade groups about the Louisiana race. "I tell them that if they can't support [Cassidy] now, be agnostic and wait until the race shapes up more, and once it shapes up, it'll make more sense to back Cassidy," Collins says. A Republican Senate majority on Capitol Hill, he notes, would be more valuable than any one reliable vote from a Democrat. The Journal says its analysis of contributions shows the energy industry—which is among the most pro-Republican business sectors in the nation—is fueling Landrieu's fundraising lead thus far, with major companies such as ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron, BP and ConocoPhillips giving her more in PAC donations than they have Cassidy. Read the full story. (subscription may be required).

News roundup: Houston Wire & Cable expands facility on Exchequer … Sales of new US homes plunge 14.5% in March … First Lady announces one-stop job site for military vets

Room to grow: Houston Wire & Cable Co. says it has expanded its Baton Rouge electrical wire and cable distribution center at 6735 Exchequer Drive, Ste. 130. Doubling the size of the facility will allow HWCC to better support the needs of customers along the Gulf Coast, the company says in a press release.

Fall in the spring: The number of Americans buying new homes plummeted in March to the slowest pace in seven months, a sign that real estate's spring buying season is off to a weak start. The Commerce Department reports that sales of new homes declined 14.5% last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 384,000. As reported earlier this week, sales of new and existing homes in the eight-parish Capital Region fell roughly 15% last month.

Serving those who have served: Aiming to streamline employment resources for people leaving the military, the government is creating an integrated website that can help job-seekers create rsums, connect with employers, and become part of a database of veterans and their spouses for companies to mine for skills and talents. First lady Michelle Obama announced the launch of the new Veterans Employment Center this morning. Unemployment among veterans who have served since September 2001 stood at 9% in 2013, about 1.6 percentage points higher than the overall population. The Associated Press has the full story.

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