Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Thu, September 18, 2014

Marriott owner still mulling possible sale of iconic high-rise

As of this afternoon, the Marriott at Interstate 10 and College Drive is not under new ownership. That's because no decision has been made yet by the hotel's owners on whether or not to accept the $21.4 million high bid made during an auction that closed Wednesday afternoon. The high bid did not meet the reserve, or minimum, price lenders were seeking, says bankruptcy attorney Brett Furr, who was not directly involved with the auction but represented the hotel lender—CCMS—in 2013 during foreclosure proceedings. CCMS is now trying to determine whether to accept the high bid, further negotiate with the bidder or "put a for sale sign on it." The online auction drew 10 bidders, according to Furr, who says he is not aware of the identity of the winning bidder. "They're playing it pretty close to the vest," Furr says of CCMS. Though it is unknown what CCMS set as the reserve price, local hotel industry analyst and broker John Fels says $21.4 million is a fair price, given the estimated $10 million or so worth of renovations needed at the 43-year-old, 299-room hotel. Fels says whoever the winning bidder is, Marriott will have to sign off on the buyer's improvement plans for the hotel. "They will have to prove themselves capable to once again turn around this hotel to the premier position it once enjoyed," Fels says. —Stephanie Riegel

Social media lessons from Mike the Tiger

You probably don't know Ginger Guttner, but if you follow any of the official social media profiles of Mike VI, LSU's live mascot, then you've seen her work. And that's the way Guttner likes it: She wants you to interact with Mike online and forget that she's the human being behind the tiger's tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram pictures. "People really get into the fact that they think they're talking directly to Mike, and I don't want to interfere with that," says Guttner, who shared with the Baton Rouge Social Media Association this afternoon the evolution of Mike's online presence since LSU first made an official Facebook page for him in 2010. "People want Mike, not the administrator." While that may seem obvious, Guttner says it wasn't back in 2010, when she "fell into the gig" of handling MIke's online presence as director of public relations for the LSU Veterinary School of Medicine. Today, Guttner cringes while recalling her first Facebook post on Mike's official page: a dry description of Mike I's life and death, which included information on where you can find his preserved pelt on display. (It's in the LSU Museum of Natural History if you're really interested.) At that time, Guttner totally rejected the idea of posting for Mike in a first-person voice. She thought people wouldn't like it and feared she might inadvertently say something that wasn't appropriate. Today, Mike only posts in the first person. Finding a voice for Mike and sticking with it was just one of the many lessons Guttner says she learned the hard way when establishing a social media presence for Mike. She's also learned that Mike has to post on a consistent basis, provide his followers some special access through the posts and find ways to challenge his followers to interact with the posts and increase his following. —Steve Sanoski Read the full story here.

Entrepreneur: Pat Quigley

Pat Quigley, the former longtime owner of Ivar's, says selling his sportsbar over the summer has given him room to grow a specialty travel service called Green Jacket Sports. As Business Report details in its Entrepreneur feature from the current issue, Quigley's new company specializes in trips to the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia. The only sure way to get tickets from tournament organizers is through the annual list—which has been closed since 1976. Quigley coordinates with residents of upscale neighborhoods in Augusta who are on the list and looking to get out of town on Masters Tournament weekend. Quigley offers the house for rent and tickets as a package deal, often to businessmen looking to bring their clients on trips. "I work very hard during Masters week, going from home to home, making sure that every client is happy," Quigley says. Green Jacket Sports also coordinates golf trips to Ireland. With Ivar's off of his hands, Quigley says he's now looking to expand his service to other sporting events. "Now I'm going to be able to say, 'You want to do the Super Bowl this year? Great, I'll put it together for you,'" he says. Read the full feature. Send your comments to editors@businessreport.com.

BREC hires new golf director

BREC has hired a new director of golf to replace Jeffrey Marks, who resigned in June to return to Georgia to be with his family. In announcing the hire of Michael Raby this afternoon, BREC notes the "PGA Master Professional has strong ties to south Louisiana and worked in the New Orleans area for nine years; five at City Park and four at Metairie Country Club." Most recently, Raby was the general manager and head professional of the Cleveland Metroparks golf operations, where he has worked since 1998. The Cleveland Metroparks system in Ohio, with eight courses and four driving ranges, is similar in size to the BREC system, which includes seven golf courses and three driving ranges. "We are about to create a 10-year strategic plan and I believe he is the right person to create a strong, comprehensive plan that will honestly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the golf operation and lay out a plan of action to bring it to another level," says BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight in a prepared statement. "He is responsible for introducing some exciting, innovative programming to the courses in Cleveland, and I'm looking forward to seeing the same thing here." Raby, 49, has been a PGA professional since 1995.

La. has largest gender pay gap in US, report says

Louisiana has the nation's largest gender pay gap, with women paid about two-thirds of what men are paid, according to new census data. The Associated Press reports figures from 2013 also show that in Mississippi women make 77% of what men do, about the average gap nationally, but average pay for both men and women in Mississippi was the nation's lowest: $39,956 and $30,667, respectively. In Louisiana, by contrast, men's pay was in the top half nationally, averaging $48,318, while women's pay ranked 44th among the states and Washington, D.C., at $31,865. That indicates high gender segregation in Louisiana jobs, "possibly in the oil and gas area, which pays well but doesn't have a lot of women," says Lisa Maatz, vice president of governmental relations for the American Association of University Women, which used census data for men's and women's average pay to calculate the pay gap for all 51 jurisdictions. The District of Columbia had both the narrowest gender gap—women's pay averaged 91% of men's—and the highest average pay at $67,610 for men and $61,760 for women. It was followed by New York state at 86%, Maryland at 85%, and Florida, California and Arizona at 84%. The widest gaps, after Louisiana's, were 69% for Wyoming and West Virginia and 70% for Utah and North Dakota. Read the full story.

US household wealth rises 1.7% in Q2 to record level

Strong stock market gains and higher home prices boosted Americans' net worth in the April-June period to a record high, a trend that could encourage more spending. The Associated Press reports US households also took on the most new debt in five years, driven mostly by student and auto loans. More borrowing can be a sign of confidence, although greater student debt can pose a burden for younger households. The Federal Reserve says in a report issued today that household wealth rose 1.7% in the second quarter to $81.5 trillion. Americans' stock and mutual fund portfolios gained $1 trillion. The value of their homes increased $230 billion. The Fed's figures aren't adjusted for population growth or inflation. Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of homes, stocks and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts. U.S. net worth has rebounded dramatically since the depths of the Great Recession. During the first quarter of 2009, as the stock market's losses deepened, net worth fell as low as $55.6 trillion—19% below its pre-recession peak of $68.8 trillion. But the wealth gains are flowing mainly to affluent Americans. Read the full story.

News roundup: Office of Group Benefits plan changes save $18M, state says … Levee board lawsuit supporter to keep seat … Obamacare enrollee figures revised downward

Back on track: The once fiscally troubled state employee insurance plan has saved $18.3 million in the first two months of implementing changes to the plan, according to a press release from the Division of Administration. In order to keep the plan afloat, premiums were increased and benefits were reconfigured earlier this year. Total revenues increased 3.3% this July through August compared to the same time period last year. Expenses have decreased almost 5%. "These numbers show that [the Office of Group Benefits] is on the right track," Commissioner Kristy Nichols says in a press release.

Please remain seated: A member of the New Orleans-area levee board who supports the board's suit against 97 oil and gas companies has been re-nominated to serve another term, according to a report from The Associated Press. Members of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East must be first selected by a nominating board, then approved by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has attacked the lawsuit since it was filed in the summer of 2013. Paul Kemp, who teaches coastal science at LSU, was narrowly nominated to keep his technical position on the board, making Jindal's only option to approve the nomination. Read the full story.

False start: The Obama administration is re-evaluating the number of people who signed up for subsidized private health insurance under the health care law, downgrading the 8 million reported earlier this year to 7.3 million. According to a report from The Associated Press, Medicare Administrator Marilyn Tavenner updated the numbers at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing today. The numbers were expected to slip downward as insurers reported 10% of new enrollees lost coverage after failing to pay the first month's premium. After a chaotic launch, the numbers are still positive for the administration. Enrollment is projected to grow next year. Read the full story.
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