Central planning and zoning director among top candidates for EBR post, Wicker says
The selection committee looking for East Baton Rouge Parish's next planning director will conduct a special meeting and "public dialog" this afternoon to explain the method it is using to evaluate the 91 candidates who have applied to replace former planning director Troy Bunch, who retired in November. Metro Council member Tara Wicker, who is also chair of the Planning Commission, is heading the seven-member selection committee. Wicker says the committee is currently reviewing the applications and has devised a matrix to help evaluate the candidates. Though the names of the candidates will not be made public today, Wicker confirms for Daily Report that among the strongest candidates—based on the committee's matrix system—is Central Planning and Zoning Director Woodrow Muhammad. "He is definitely one of the ones [who ranks very highly] in terms of his years of experience and education in the field," says Wicker. "But it is still very early in the process. We have not talked to anyone or interviewed anyone." Muhammad, who has been in his current position since July 2011, previously worked as a planner for CH2M Hill and was a subdivision coordinator with the EBR planning commission from 2002-2006. Reached by telephone this morning, Muhammad says he does not want to comment at this time. Wicker says the purpose of today's meeting—which begins at 2 p.m. on the third floor of City Hall, 222 St. Louis St.—is to explain the process, update the community and get feedback from those in attendance about what they would like to see in a planning director. —Stephanie Riegel
Council considers giving bus bench contractors access to state rights of way in exchange for tighter restrictions
Although a new franchise agreement with bus bench company National Concrete Industries
was OK'd by the Metro Council at Wednesday's meeting, a potentially crucial aspect of the contract was removed just before it was approved. Article 11 of the agreement would have permitted National Concrete Industries to place bus benches on state rights of way, a privilege that two other franchisees with bus bench contracts, Geaux Benches and Giraffe Advertising, do not enjoy under their current agreements. State highways running through Baton Rouge include Florida Boulevard, Airline Highway, and O'Neal Lane. Because National Concrete Industries' new contract is far more restrictive than the other two—capping the number of benches they can put out at 300, prohibiting advertisements related to alcohol, cigarettes and/or gambling, and limiting bench placement to a 30-degree angle from the road as opposed to a 90-degree angle—the logic behind Article 11 was that it would motivate Geaux Benches and Giraffe Advertising to agree to the additional restrictions in exchange for the ability to place benches along state rights of way. "Our plans were to go back to the other two franchisees and say, if you want the same types of terms, then you have to agree to the same terms that are in here," Councilman Buddy Amoroso explained at the meeting. "We thought by offering something that was not in the original agreements, we could modify the other two contracts." That article was removed before the contract was approved, however, eliminating the sense of urgency Article 11 might have prompted among the other two franchisees. —Rachel Alexander Read the full story.
Publisher: St. George breakaway effort a symptom of older, larger problem facing EBR
In his latest column, Business Report Publisher Rolfe McCollister says that despite all the debate, anger and finger-pointing regarding the effort to create the new City of St. George, the breakaway effort is not the real problem. "It is just a symptom and inevitable reaction to a larger problem this community and its elected officials have failed to address for decades: poor schools," McCollister says. "This train has been coming down the tracks for years and picking up steam. Everyone seemed to be just fine with it as long as its route remained to the north. Baker got its own school system. Then came Zachary. You couldn't blame them—but where was the opposition then?" Once the Central community saw the progress in Zachary, they too wanted control of their schools, McCollister notes, and after the Legislature tried to force Central to remain in the EBR system, they incorporated their own city. "So they got their school district—and parents in southeast East Baton Rouge Parish, many of whom are paying a private tuition, or considering it versus moving to Livingston or Ascension, were jealous. Can you blame them?" McCollister asks. He notes that those behind the effort to incorporate the City of St. George are only doing so after the Legislature has twice rejected their efforts to create an independent school district. "The train has been picking up steam for years and made stops in Baker, Zachary and Central," says McCollister. "And if it is successful in stopping in southeast EBR, don't be surprised if the next destination is south Baton Rouge." Read the full column. Send your comments to email@example.com.
EBR voters evenly divided on St. George proposal, survey says
New survey results released by the LSU Public Policy Research Lab show East Baton Rouge Parish voters are pretty evenly divided on the proposal to incorporate the city of St. George. Approximately 49.5% of the nearly 1,100 registered voters who participated in the recent survey said they oppose the breakaway city, and 59% said they believe it would have a negative impact on East Baton Rouge Parish. When asked if they believe the city of St. George would be bad for the city of Baton Rouge, nearly 63% said yes. But nearly 50% of respondents in the city-parish said they believe incorporation of the new city would be good for its new residents. Of the survey participants who live within the proposed city limits of St. George, 40% said they support the creation of a new city, while 35% said they are opposed and 25% said they are still uncertain. On Wednesday, the Committee to Incorporate St. George issued a release disputing the findings of a study by economist Jim Richardson. The committee's release said that incorporation would result in an approximately $14 million budget shortfall for the city-parish. Richardson had estimated the city-parish shortfall at $53 million. The committee is holding a public meeting from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. this evening at Woodlawn Baptist Church, 5805 Jones Creek Road. —Staff report
'225 Weekender': Catch the Christmas spirit downtown
'Tis the season to enjoy the annual downtown Christmas Parade. As 225 Weekender reports, the 63rd incarnation of the event will roll through the Capital City on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. The event typically brings more than 70,000 people to the downtown area to watch the parade's 80 entries, including marching bands, celebrities, dance troupes and more. Super Why, a character from the animated series of the same name, is the Children's Grand Marshal. There will also be a Santa Fun Run at 5:15 p.m. Access complete parade details and learn about more events on tap this weekend in the Captial Region in the new 225 Weekender e-newsletter.
U.S. retail sales rise by largest percentage in five months
U.S. consumers ramped up spending in November on cars, appliances and furniture and made more purchases online, signaling growing confidence in the economy at the start of the holiday shopping season. The Commerce Department reports this morning that retail sales rose 0.7% on the month, the biggest gain in five months. October's figure was also revised higher to 0.6%. The Associated Press reports two straight months of healthy sales suggest steady hiring is encouraging Americans to spend more this holiday season, particularly on big-ticket items. That could give a critical boost to the economic growth. Today's report also "suggests that the holiday shopping season began on a strong note," says Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics. Consumers purchased more at home on their computers last month, and less at traditional stores. Those trends could explain why many retail chains estimated disappointing sales over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, one of the most critical for those businesses. Read the full story.
News roundup: Yoga studio to open on Perkins early next year … Belk details plans for Juban Crossing store … Farm bill uncertainty looms for La. producers
Stretching out: The owners of Reflection Yoga Studio say classes will start Jan. 2 at the studio's new location at 11015 Perkins Road, with an open house slated for Saturday, Dec. 28, from 3 to 6 p.m. The studio is located at the intersection of Wimbledon Avenue. All instructors at the studio are registered, meaning they have completed a minimum of 200 hours of a yoga teacher training program. Classes will be available for all ages and experience levels.
On the drawing board: Department store chain Belk says the store planned at Juban Crossing in Livingston Parish will measure 75,000 square feet, cost roughly $7 million and be open sometime next fall. Belk, which was announced as an anchor tenant of the mixed-used development in October, says construction on the store will begin in February. Juban Crossing developer Creekstone Companies has said other retailers to open along with Belk in the first phase of development include T.J.Maxx, Michael's, Rouses supermarket, Bed Bath & Beyond, Petsmart, Ulta Salon, Shoe Carnival and Old Navy.
The waiting game: As Congress moves toward its holiday recess, the LSU AgCenter says Louisiana farmers are waiting to see what the new year will bring in terms of a new farm bill. "The latest news is that there has been some positive movement on addressing some of the issues, but no one seems to think it will happen before the end of the year," says LSU AgCenter economist Kurt Guidry. The House is scheduled to break for the holidays this Friday, and the Senate is scheduled to break on Friday, Dec. 20. "It appears the latest hope is that Congress would go back to the negotiations in early January and have a farm bill passed by the end of the month," Guidry says. The LSU AgCenter has more in its press release.
Today's poll question: Do you support a proposal by five Metro Council members that the city-parish should only hire people who live within the city limits of Baton Rouge and unincorporated areas of East Baton Rouge Parish?