Daily Report

This Afternoon's Headlines / Wed, August 20, 2014

Duke wants initial focus of zoning law changes to be on parking

As the city-parish begins to look at rewriting its zoning laws, Planning Director Frank Duke wants to focus first on the section of the code dealing with parking requirements, which he says are outdated and discourage infill development. Duke has asked John Fregonese—the Portland, Oregon-based planner whose firm was contracted to write the city's FuturEBR master plan and is under contract to help implement it—to focus first on the parking provisions in the code and come up with badly needed revisions. "Right now we have one set of parking requirements (for how much parking a development must provide) that is very suburban but applies to the whole parish," he says. "But over the past five years, you've seen a resurgence in urban development, and you cannot apply a suburban standard to those areas." Duke would like to revise the ordinance so that it has distinct requirements for urban and suburban areas, and maybe even a special provision for downtown. "In a downtown area you may not need the onsite parking that is typically required … so it totally changes your formula," he says. Duke implemented a similar change in his previous position as planning director in Norfolk, Virginia, where it took three years. He's hoping Fregonese, a national expert under contract for the city-parish, will have the resources to rewrite the code and help get it approved within one year. "If you continue to require all those suburban requirements you end up in a city where people can't do anything, which encourages disinvestment," he says. —Stephanie Riegel

Feasibility study being conducted on school focused on low-income youth

New Schools for Baton Rouge, a nonprofit seeking to establish schools in low-income areas of the city, is hoping to bring in a Catholic organization that partners with local businesses in the cities it operates. The 28 schools in the Cristo Rey Network across the country pair students with businesses for hands-on job experience. Money that the students earn at those jobs goes toward their tuition. Because Cristo Rey hopes also to draw funding from the state's voucher program, the work-study system could cut down on costs to the state. New Schools CEO Chris Meyer says his organization is conducting a feasibility study to look into, among other factors, what businesses may be interested in such a partnership. From 6 to 7 p.m. tonight, a reception and informational meeting will be held at the Catholic Life Center, 1800 South Acadian Thruway, to kick off the feasibility study. Meyer says the goal is to find 100 jobs locally for students, with hopes for the school to open in 2016 with 125 ninth graders. Cristo Rey focuses on low-income students who can't afford tuition and are behind academically, and it has proven success, Meyer says. "We're lucky to have a scholarship school that has a record of transparent data and good results, as we would expect in Baton Rouge," Meyer says. New Schools helped four schools launch this fall and plans for three more to open next year. To meet its growth goals, Meyer said New Schools hopes to help open five to seven schools both in 2016 and 2017. —Kelly Connelly

Stabiler buys more property near restaurant under development on Jefferson

Wayne Stabiler, the owner of restaurants such as Little Village, Le Creolť and Stab's Steak and Seafood, closed deals Tuesday on two properties worth $1.25 million that are adjacent to the site of a new restaurant under development. The restaurant is planned to open in the former Bank One building at 7666 Jefferson Hwy. The new properties are in the Bocage neighborhood at 7655 Rienzi Blvd. and 2620 McCarroll Dr. Stabiler says he doesn't yet know if those properties will be used in connection to the future restaurant. "We have no plans for it yet, but we'll get that together in the next 30 days," Stabiler says. As for the restaurant, Stabiler says he's not sure when it will open either. "Once the permitting is finished everything will move fast," Stabiler says. "We're set up to get everything moving as soon as permitting is finished." Stabiler bought the bank property in March for $1.4 million. —Kelly Connelly

Blue Cross executive VP and COO announces retirement

Peggy Scott, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana executive vice president and chief operating officer, announced today that she plans to retire in July 2015. "We will be sad to see her leave us," says Blue Cross President and CEO Mike Reitz in a prepared statement. "Peggy has played a vital role in the success of this company over the past nine years. We will use this next year to conduct a search for a successor to carry on the exemplary leadership that she provided. We wish her the best." A native of Baton Rouge, Scott received her bachelor's degree from LSU in 1973 and her executive MBA in 1992 from Tulane University in New Orleans. Prior to becoming executive vice president and chief operating officer, Scott also held positions of chief financial officer and treasurer at Blue Cross. She is married to local economist Loren Scott. —Steve Sanoski

After a decade of delays, S. Harrell's Ferry area subdivision nears completion

One townhome development and somewhere between 15 and 20 houses are all that's left to build out in the Shadowbrook Lakes subdivision, which has been under construction for the past 10 years. The neighborhood, located just north of the intersection of S. Harrell's Ferry and Jones Creek roads, will include roughly 100 houses and 48 townhomes when complete. Todd Waguespack with Level Ventures LLC, the company tackling the project, says 95% of constructed homes are already occupied. Penn Properties started developing the neighborhood in the early 2000s, but construction stalled during the economic downturn. Level Ventures bought the properties in 2012 for about $4.35 million. "The clubhouse is complete, the pool is complete, everything's up and running. It's going great," Waguespack says. Level Ventures completes four or five homes a month, Waguespack says. Homes average 2,800 square feet in area and sell for between $279,000 and $400,000. —Kelly Connelly

La. GDP growth 4th best in US at close of 2013

Louisiana's real gross domestic product growth between the third and fourth quarters of last year was 5.4%, which was the fourth-best growth by percentage among all states, according to new data released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The growth of Louisiana's GDP over the final quarter of last year was nearly double the nation's 2.8% expansion. North Dakota and Wyoming tied for the greatest growth during the quarter, at 8.4% each, followed by West Virginia, at 6.4%. Just two states—Minnesota, which recorded no change, and Mississippi, which saw GDP drop 3%—didn't post growth in GDP figures during the fourth quarter. Louisiana led all 12 Southeastern states in GDP growth during the fourth quarter and was among just 24 states to post an increase in GDP during each quarter of last year. Louisiana's GDP grew by 1.2% in the first quarter of last year, compared to the last quarter of 2012; while second quarter growth was 3.5% and third quarter growth was 4.3%. Along with the quarterly data released today, the BEA has also released quarterly GDP growth statistics for all states dating back to the second quarter of 2005. In Louisiana, GDP growth was recorded in 22 of the 35 quarters since the middle of 2005, while it declined during 13 quarters. The greatest quarterly contraction came in the third quarter of 2005—when Hurricane Katrina struck—when Louisiana's GDP shrank by 12.7%. The greatest expansion of GDP came in the first quarter of 2010, at 11.5%. Access the complete report. —Steve Sanoski

Federal agency has questions about LSU hospital deals

Gov. Bobby Jindal's revised financing plan for six LSU hospital privatization deals is running into questions from federal health officials who rejected a previous version. The Associated Press reports the state health department today released the three-page question letter from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS. Jindal privatized nearly all the LSU hospitals without waiting for federal officials to sign off on financing arrangements that rely on millions of federal Medicaid dollars. In May, CMS rejected the plans for six hospital deals, saying the agreements don't meet federal guidelines. So, the state Department of Health and Hospitals sent a new proposal. DHH Secretary Kathy Kliebert says the questions are a typical part of the process and "positive sign" the revised financing plan could be approved.

News roundup: Landrieu, Cassidy trade jabs over leadership … Cox Communications extends program providing discounted Internet to low-income families … Bank of America reaches $17B settlement with US

The race is on: U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and her main Republican challenger, Congressman Bill Cassidy, traded jabs over leadership and effectiveness today as they officially signed up on the opening day of qualifying for Louisiana's November election. Landrieu, a Democrat deemed among the nation's most vulnerable incumbents, touted her 18 years of seniority and her leadership of the Senate energy committee. Cassidy, a Baton Rouge doctor, described his effort as crucial to returning the U.S. Senate to GOP control, which he says more closely represents Louisiana's views. The Associated Press has the full story.

Making a connection: Cox Communications announced it has signed a two-year extension of its participation in Connect2Compete, a national program offering discounted high speed Internet service to low-income families with children who qualify for the National School Lunch Program. Cox says it has pledged $15 million in support of broadband adoption initiatives through 2016. Cox piloted the program in 2012, and it rolled out the program nationally in April 2013. Today, more than 15,000 families have enrolled in the program. Nearly 82% of students in East Baton Rouge Parish reportedly qualified for free or reduced lunches as of last year. Cox has more details on today's announcement.

The big deal: Bank of America has reached a record $17 billion settlement to resolve an investigation into its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis, officials directly familiar with the matter. One of the officials, who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the announcement isn't scheduled until Thursday at the earliest, says the bank will pay $10 billion in cash and provide consumer relief valued at $7 billion. Read the full story.
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