Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Wed, September 17, 2014

News alert: Marriott auction closes with $21.4M bid; Wampold out of the running

An online auction of the iconic high-rise Marriott Hotel off Interstate 10 and College Drive closed this afternoon with a high bid of $21.4 million, says developer Mike Wampold, who was not the top bidder. The high bid did not meet the reserve, or minimum, price that lenders were seeking so it is unclear if they will accept the bid, negotiate with the high bidder—whose identity is unknown—or put the property back up for auction. Wampold was among those who bid on the 299-room hotel, but says he bowed out earlier today after the price climbed above his $13 million bid. Wampold says he was interested in the 43-year-old hotel but that it needs a significant renovation with an estimated price tag of between $50,000 and $60,000 per room, or between $11.4 million and $13.7 million. Lender CCMS, a trust, seized the hotel in May 2013 from Columbia Properties Baton Rouge, which owed more than $32 million on a $36.5 million promissory note. Three months later, it bought back the property for $2,200 in court costs, saying, at the time, it had plans to put it on the market. —Stephanie Riegel

Editor's note: This story has been changed since original publication. An earlier version stated the hotel has 229 rooms. It has 299 rooms. Daily Report regrets the error.

New Orleans Original Daiquiris to replace Daiquiri Cafe on Lee

New Orleans Original Daiquiris, the Metairie-based company credited with making daiquiris more popular in New Orleans in the 1980s, is planning to open its second Baton Rouge location at the end of November. The company has over 50 stores nationwide and in the Caribbean, but Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Joe Pando says it has neglected the Baton Rouge market over the years. When its first capital area store opened in late 2012, Pando tells Daily Report, the company avoided coming to the capital area because permitting and zoning laws allowing alcohol sales are difficult to overcome. The new location, to be located in a shopping center at 133 Lee Drive, will replace the existing Daiquiri Caf, so the building already has the proper zoning requirements. "If you don't go into a location that already has that zoning you have to go before the council, and that's really an uphill battle," Pando says. The company is spending $138,000 to renovate the 2,277-square-foot shop, according to an application to remodel filed with the city-parish Department of Public Works. The company is in negotiations for a third location, Pando says, "and it won't stop there. Shame on us for not being there for all those years." —Kelly Connelly

Bengals & Bandits opens 'pop-up store' inside Dyson House

Eric Hedrick, owner of Bengals & Bandits, is trying out a new "pop-up store" inside the Dyson House antiques and gift store at 7575 Jefferson Highway, just across from Towne Center. "As far as we know, we're the first retailer in Baton Rouge to do something like this," says Hedrick, who began filling up about 300 square feet of space inside Dyson House with Bengals & Bandits merchandise on Monday. "We were looking for a space in that area of town that we could put our toe in the water without having to completely commit to a long-term lease, and this was a great way for us to do that." Hedrick says he and Dyson House owner Louis Landry have agreed to keep the pop-up store open through at least the end of the year. "And then we'll sit down in January and look at the numbers and see where we're at, but the goal is to do it year-round," he says. Bengals & Bandits has been selling LSU gear at its brick-and-mortar store at 3340 Highland Road, just outside the LSU North Gates, for years. More recently, it opened a store in Lafayette's River Ranch development about a year ago. There, Bengals & Bandits sells UL Lafayette and New Orleans Saints gear in addition to its LSU merchandise. "It's been incredible,” he says of the Lafayette store. “We have a licensing deal with UL that's similar to our deal with LSU to do our original, niche shirts there, and we’ve gotten a great response from the Lafayette community.” Hedrick says he hopes to open another store within the next year and is currently reviewing potential locations. “We’re looking at the suburbs of Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lake Charles,” he says, “but we are definitely going to opening up another location by next spring or summer.” —Steve Sanoski

Baby Lane to join Bumble Lane in Towne Center

Bumble Lane spa owner Casey Little says plans are unfolding for a sister store at Towne Center to be called Baby Lane. Baby Lane will sell children's merchandise, such as children's clothing, keepsakes and bedding, Little says. It's only two doors down from the spa, separated by the children's haircut boutique Pigtails & Crewcuts. The 2,000-square-foot store is scheduled to open in November. Little expanded Bumble Lane four years ago. He says the idea for the new space came out of necessity. The children's merchandise sold in the retail space in Bumble Lane does very well, "but it doesn't make sense to keep expanding that selection in that space," Little says. He hopes the two businesses will complement each other, and says Baby Lane will partner with Bumble Lane to offer spa party baby showers. —Kelly Connelly

DDD director catalogs projects, initiatives that transformed downtown BR since 1987

Davis Rhorer, the first and only executive director of the Downtown Development District since its inception in 1987, scarcely had time in his address this afternoon to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge to catalog the more than 100 projects and $2 billion in investments downtown has seen on his watch. But that didn't stop him from trying. Rhorer showed slide after slide depicting critical projects that changed the perception of downtown, each leading to next steps in a transformation that shows no sign of slowing. One of the early keys, Rhorer said, was passage of former state Rep. Joe Delpit's Act 761 in 1990 that called for consolidation of state government downtown. "And so it began," Rhorer said. While it could hardly be imagined in 1987, downtown now attracts 3 million tourists a year, is home to 2,200 permanent residents, employs 23,000 workers and has 140,000 visitors daily, he said. "Downtown has eight art galleries, five concert venues, 61 restaurants and 21 bars and lounges," Rhorer noted. The faith community has been part of downtown's transformation, too. "I can't overestimate the importance of the investment in downtown that its 10 churches have made." Rhorer said the key to it all is the model developed over the years: Unified vision followed by careful planning leading to adequate funding and efficient implementation. "This is serious business," he said. "We are moving ahead as a city, and things are really changing. … And what happens downtown design-wise affects everything else." —David Dodson

La. GOP becomes first state Republican Party to accept bitcoin contributions

The Republican Party of Louisiana announced today it is accepting contributions in bitcoin via its official website, making it the first major state-level executive committee to turn to bitcoin payments for monetary support. CoinDesk.com, which reports on bitcoin and other virtual currencies, reports that only the Libertarian Party has made the same move—in Louisiana and Texas—following guidance from the U.S. Federal Election Commission determining that political campaigns and political action committees can accept bitcoin as a form of in-kind donation under current federal election laws. LAGOP executive director Jason Dor tells the news site that other states may soon follow suit as their party leaders learn more about bitcoin. "I think the rise of bitcoin's popularity and use is forcing many public officials to learn about it. Still, many elected officials are not aware of it," he says. "If the bitcoin community embraces the use of bitcoin to support and oppose political campaigns, the role of bitcoin will only grow." Bitcoin campaign contributions are not the party's first experience with the digital currency; it has also paid BitPolitic, the group that helped prepare the LAGOP to launch bitcoin transactions on its website, in bitcoin. Dor says the move by the LAGOP was partly motivated by finding better ways to reach and engage its supporters, but that bitcoin also already embodies many conservative principles, such as embracing innovation and the free market, and opposing inflationary monetary policy. Read the full story.

RNC leader presses for more Landrieu flight details

The chairman of the Republican National Committee called today on U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu to release all records of her taxpayer-funded charter flights for an independent review, to determine whether they were campaign-related. The Associated Press reports RNC Chairman Reince Priebus says if the three-term Democratic incumbent is unwilling to yield to such scrutiny, she should reimburse the federal treasury for all private flight spending. "This is not just a forgetful moment. It's a pattern," Priebus says. The push for more information comes after Landrieu acknowledged she improperly billed her Senate office for nearly $34,000 in charter costs that should have been paid from her campaign account. Her campaign has reimbursed the federal treasury. Landrieu ordered a flight review after media reports cited charter flights paid with taxpayer dollars that included campaign fundraising stops. The review left out her first term. Her campaign said the review dated back to February 2002 because federal rules changed then to allow flight costs to be split between Senate and campaign accounts for mixed-purpose trips. GOP leaders, seeking to keep the issue alive during a tight race leading up to the November election, are saying the senator's report left large gaps. Read the full story.

News roundup: Dunkin' Donuts to open Florida Boulevard location Friday … Four BR businesses receive 2014 Torch Award for Ethics in Business … EBR library hosts first-ever Mini Maker Faire on Saturday

Opening soon: Dunkin' Donuts announced today it will open a new location at 8121 Florida Blvd. on Friday. Nice Foods Limited is the Dunkin' Donuts franchisee in the Baton Rouge area, and it currently operates two Dunkin' Donuts restaurants in the city, one at 2698 South Sherwood Forest Blvd. and another at 9837 Bluebonnet Blvd. Dunkin' Donuts opened its first restaurant in Baton Rouge in 2012. The new location will be open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily and will employ about 15 people.

Corporate conscience: The Better Business Bureau of South Central Louisiana announced today four Baton Rouge-based businesses have been named winners of the 2014 Douglas Manship Sr. Torch Award for Ethics in Business. The companies are: SRS Wealth Management Group, Bozeman Distributors, Louisiana Workers' Compensation Corp. and Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center. They will be recognized at the BBB's 14th Annual Torch Awards Banquet on Tuesday, Oct. 14, at L'Auberge Casino & Hotel.

Making it happen: The East Baton Rouge Parish Library is hosting its first-ever Mini Maker Faire on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the new Main Library, 7711 Goodwood Blvd. At the family-friendly event, which is for all ages and is free, high- and low-tech makers will demonstrate everything from 3D printing and robot technology to crocheting, painting, music making and crafting. Get complete details.
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