Katrina anniversary marked by greater regional cooperation
Nine years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and unleashed the levee failures in New Orleans that flooded the city for weeks, the Baton Rouge-New Orleans "super region" is thriving, say local economic development officials. "The storms of 2005 brought the Baton Rouge area and Greater New Orleans together," says Adam Knapp, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. "This super region is arguably the hottest in the U.S. today." BRAC and Greater New Orleans Inc. have led efforts to promote the entire region cooperatively, branding it as a "super region." The Capital Region, in particular, has been the beneficiary of greater regional cooperation, increased population and a flurry of economic development activity. Consider such retail and residential projects as Perkins Rowe, The Settlement at Willow Grove and The Village at Magnolia Square, all of which have been developed since Katrina. Downtown, too, has changed materially. "Katrina brought about lasting change in the downtown landscape," says Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer. "From the intense first several weeks, when the city exploded with people, every bit of available space was leased and bought, including all residential and office space available." Among the downtown projects that have been developed since 2005 are II City Plaza, the 19th Judicial District Courthouse, North Boulevard Town Square, the Hilton Capitol Center, Hotel Indigo and the Hampton Inn & Suites, while several other major residential and mixed-use projects—most notably the IBM office tower and apartment complex—are under construction. "Office buildings, large tenant presence, new residential and a resounding confidence in downtown and our abilities have emerged in the past nine years," Rhorer says. While the anniversary of the disaster has gone largely unnoticed in the Capital Region, where many are focused on Saturday night's LSU season opener, several ceremonies in New Orleans are marking the occasion.—Stephanie Riegel
First phase of River District moving toward fruition
Two firms that specialize in developing multifamily complexes are negotiating with the Lafayette-based developers of the proposed River District to do the first phase of apartments at the site. Architect Steve Oubre, who is working with developers Dalis Waguespack and Michael Moreno on the project, says the brother-sister team is in talks with two firms about developing the first phase of residential units, which would number between 140 and 200. It has been more than five months since the Planning Commission approved the concept plan for the River District, a proposed mixed-use project that would straddle Nicholson Drive between LSU and downtown. Oubre says Moreno and Waguespack will remain master developers of the project but always intended to bring in other developers to work on the first phase of residential and commercial development. Oubre also says he hopes to begin working on design documents soon and that plans could be completed by the end of the year. —Stephanie Riegel
LaPolitics: November turnout forecast at 45% to 50%
Secretary of State Tom Schedler, who was swamped last week with qualifying, didn't lose sight of the true endgame coming in November and December. He tells LaPolitics that the general election and runoff will be where the real pressure is applied. He also recalls a "common joke" that's passed down from one secretary to another in his office. "The last thing you want to be is interviewed on the last day of an election cycle," Schedler says laughing. "They're not going to congratulate you. They're talking to you because something went wrong." From a unique jungle primary system to a race that may decide the balance of the U.S. Senate to one congressional race hosting an ex-con governor and another featuring a kissing incumbent, there is a great deal of interest nationally in Louisiana's 2014 elections. "This particular cycle is going to be bigger than a presidential election," Schedler says. "Maybe not in participation, but definitely in the amount of money from outside of the state and also media scrutiny." That kind of attention has Schedler on his toes and pressing hard on the folks who make elections happen on the ground, like clerks, poll workers and his staff. "I'm telling them there is no room for error," he says. With so much drama, one might expect statewide turnout to be astronomical, but Schedler is estimating somewhere between 45% and 50% for the November general election, "leaning more toward the lower side." The last midterm congressional cycle in 2010 saw a 44% turnout, while in 2006 it was a paltry 33%. So far only three of the more than two dozen states around the country that have held primaries have surpassed their turnouts from four years ago. In 2008, the last time U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was on the ballot, turnout in Louisiana was 67%, but that was when she shared space with President Barack Obama. For the record, the all-time statewide turnout record stands at 73%, which was produced in 1991 by the Edwin Edwards-David Duke governor's race.
—The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry oversees four PACs named for each cardinal point in the state. Individually they can provide a candidate with a $2,500 maximum donation, but a grand slam, meaning contributions from all four, can bring home $10,000 for a pro-biz politician. To the delight of candidates, those figures could soon be going up. Should all go as planned, LABI's so-called "small PACs" will become "big PACs" by the end of the year, thus doubling the amounts they can give just in time for the 2015 state elections. All of the PACs will soon launch new websites so they can accept online donations and, more importantly, each committee can boost its members to 250, with a minimum donation of $50 per—the required threshold to become a big PAC in Louisiana.
They said it: "He started it." —Congressman Vance McAllister, Republican from Swartz, on his ongoing feud with Gov. Bobby Jindal, at last week's LegisGator event in Lake Charles.
They tweeted it: "When @WomenSucceed, America succeeds. I've always said, 'Up with skirts, down with pants!'" —Edwin Edwards, on Women's Equality Day.
(Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.)
States taking divergent paths on film tax credits; La. benefits
Even before North Carolina officially pulls the plug on its film tax incentive program, Louisiana may be the beneficiary of that state's decision to stop offering a 25% refundable tax credit on film-related expenditures. According to online news service StarNews in Wilmington, Cinemax elected to shoot the fourth season of its crime series Banshee in Louisiana, which offers a 30% credit on expenditures in excess of $300,000. StarNews reports Banshee spent more than $67 million in North Carolina in its second season. Christopher Stelly, executive director for Louisiana Entertainment for Louisiana Economic Development, said he had seen the report about Banshee relocating to Louisiana, but that is news to his office. “I have not been notified by any of the production executives for the series Banshee on relocating fully to Louisiana. The production has always planned to shoot in Louisiana for a week or so in September of this year as listed on our website. My office hasn’t put out anything on our site that would indicate otherwise,” Stelly said, adding that if Cinemax did bring Banshee to Louisiana, “We would welcome them with open arms.” Meanwhile, California lawmakers voted to offer more money, $330 million total, to filmmakers to do work in their state. Bloomberg News has the full story.
Three weeks left to make nominations for 'Business Report' Forty Under 40
The nomination period for Business Report's annual Forty Under 40 awards is quickly drawing to a close, and you have just three weeks left to tell the magazine about the rising stars you know in the Capital Region who are making the community a better place to live. To be eligible, nominees must be under the age of 40 as of Nov. 25. You can nominate someone or submit your own application. All nominations must be completed by 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 12. Check out a list of those who have already received Forty Under 40 recognition and complete a nomination form. This year's Forty Under 40 class will be profiled in the Nov. 25 issue of Business Report and honored at a special event on Dec. 4. Event details will be announced at a later date.
'225 Dine': Portico owners close Coursey location to focus on Southdowns restaurant
Portico has closed one of its two locations in the Capital City. 225 Dine reports the restaurant's Coursey Boulevard location, which opened in June 2012, closed last Sunday. Co-owner Stephen Walker says the decision was made to consolidate efforts on the Southdowns location at 4205 Perkins Road, which opened in January. "It was becoming an issue of consistency between the two locations," Walker says. "We wanted to focus on making the best Portico brand we could, and we felt like the Southdowns location had more potential in the future." The Perkins Road restaurant has been renovated, with a new patio with room for 40 patrons. The interior is now one "big wide-open space," Walker says, with booths and tables and the dining room flowing into the bar area. Executive chef Josh Hebert was also brought in, focusing on a menu that was revamped with the help of local food writer and occasional 225 contributor Jay Ducote. "We narrowed the scope of the menu," Walker says, mentioning how the menu went from 60 to 30 items. "We took the most popular items and revamped them and made them more creative." Among some of the items to expect is the Fiery Fin sandwich with Caribbean jerk grilled Mahi Mahi, fresh cilantro aioli and mango red pepper jalape˝o salsa on a brioche bun. The menu, which should be made available within the next two weeks, also features big plates such as pan-fried redfish with corn maque choux and asiago cheese grits, starters, soups, salads, sides and desserts. Read the full story and get your fill of more local culinary news in the new 225 Dine e-newsletter.
News roundup: Labor Day gas prices down to 2010 levels … Common Core legal fees capped … Trevor Sims food drive to get underway
At the pump: Domestic oil production is keeping the nation's prices down, according to a report from The New York Times. Labor Day weekend 2014 is seeing gas prices more like 2010, which has led to travel more like 2008. Tom Kloza, an oil analyst, estimates that Americans have saved over $700 million on gas this August compared to last year. The national average for the price of an unleaded gallon of gas is $3.43, according to the report, but in Baton Rouge, prices are near $3.15. The New York Times has the full story.
Due process: Louisiana taxpayers won't dole out more than $75,000 for representation in the lawsuit Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration filed with the federal government over the Common Core education standards. The state agreed to a no-bid contract with the Alexandria-based law firm Faircloth, Melton & Keiser LLC, which has represented the state in several other cases. The contract is set to terminate on July 22, 2015, though either the state or the firm can request an extension. Extension of the contract would be contingent on the Legislature's approval of funds next session. Read the contract for more details.
Take it to the bank: Next week marks the beginning of the second annual citywide food drive inspired by Trevor Sims. Sims, who died last October after a battle with cancer at the age of 10, wished to help feed hungry families in Baton Rouge. According to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, last year the drive helped provide needy families with over 433,000 meals. The drive will begin with a kick-off party at Caliente Mexican Craving, 1072 W. Lee Drive, at 5 p.m. next Tuesday. The effort aligns with national hunger month.
Today's poll question: Regardless of what happens on the field in Houston Saturday night, do you think LSU should stick with one quarterback or rotate two as it did early in Coach Les Miles' tenure?
Editor's note: In observance of Labor Day, the Daily Report staff is off on Monday and the e-newsletter will not be published. Daily Report will return on Tuesday. Have a safe and happy holiday weekend.