News alert: Bell to build helicopter assembly plant in Lafayette
After what it termed a highly competitive, multi-state site-selection process, Bell Helicopters announced today that it has chosen Lafayette as the location for a plant that will assemble its new line of SLS helicopters, the contemporary version of Bell's industry-standard JetRanger. Bell will invest $11.4 million in equipment and tooling, according to a statement from LED. The plant will create 115 new direct jobs at an average annual salary of $55,000 each, plus benefits. LED estimates the project will mean another 136 additional permanent, indirect jobs. “Today's announcement signals that Louisiana is ready to further expand its presence and leadership in the aerospace industry,” Gov. Bobby Jindal says in the statement. Jindal notes that Louisiana is an ideal place to assemble finished helicopters. “Companies in our state include three of the largest civilian helicopter operators in the world, along with aerospace production from contractors like Lockheed Martin and Boeing,” he says. The plant is particularly significant because it represents investment in an operation that will make a finished product in Louisiana rather than manufacturing feedstocks for further processing or assembly out of state. To land the project, the state is providing Bell an incentive package that includes performance-based grants of $4 million for lease support, $3.8 million for infrastructure and equipment, and $200,000 for relocation reimbursement. Bell will lease space for its new assembly operation in a new $26.3 million hangar facility at Lafayette Regional Airport that is being funded by the state and is under development. Bell is expected to begin building helicopters in the hangar by 2016. —Staff report
Bernhard buys Pecue property
Jim Bernhard has acquired a nine-acre parcel on Pecue Lane near Perkins Road that as recently as last spring was the site of a planned subdivision. But Bernhard, CEO of Bernhard Capital and founder of the Shaw Group, will not disclose what—if anything—he plans for the tract, which has a municipal address of 10235 Pecue Lane. "I invest in a lot of things," says Bernhard, who acquired the property in October for $800,000. "It's a pretty piece of property ... and, like the property downtown, we bought it for a long-term investment." In late Dec. 2012, Bernhard bought for $3.3 million the downtown riverfront property that Richard Preis had long tried to turn into a residential development called RiverPlace. Unlike the downtown property in the center of the city's urban district, Bernhard's new Pecue property is in a lush area that still has a rural feel, despite encroaching development. Earlier this year, Spears Construction optioned the property and tried to develop it into a 34-lot subdivision called Audubon Parc. But the Planning Commission denied those plans after nearby residents complained about the density of the proposed project. Chris Eddy is one of those residents and says while he opposed Audubon Parc he would not be against a development with larger lots and fewer homes. "From my perspective, if he did 15 or 20 lots in a nice gated community, I would be fine with something like that," says Eddy, who does not have any knowledge of what Bernhard might have planned for property. "I am sure if Jim does something he will do it right. We just don't want the 'cramming' affect." —Stephanie Riegel
Metro Council to take up budget at public hearing tonight
On top of any discussion about possible pay raises for some city-parish employees and increased funding for certain departments, it appears tonight's public hearing on Baton Rouge's next budget will include talk of reduced funding for some local non-profit agencies. Companion Animal Alliance Board Chair Christel Slaughter says she was informed late Monday that CAA's funding may be reduced by $70,000 next year to accommodate increased funding for the Coroner's Office. CAA received $590,000 from the city-parish this year, and Slaughter says if the proposed funding reduction is approved by the council it could mean staff reductions for CAA. Metro Councilman Joel Boé says he received an email this morning from the office of a fellow councilmember outlining some proposed funding shifts, including the CAA reduction. Boé says some reduced funding to the local Big Buddy Program was also suggested in the email, as well as other funding changes. "The email today was really the first I had heard from anybody about making any changes to the budget," Boé says. "(Department of Public Works) pay raises have been discussed in recent weeks, too, but I'm not sure what the discussion on that will be. The bottom line is there are always some very worthwhile causes that are going to be in need of more money, because there's just not enough to go around." The meeting begins at 4 p.m. on the third floor of City Hall, 222 St. Louis St. See the full agenda. —Steve Sanoski
Maginnis: Advice for pre-candidate Vitter
While the rest of us may be out enjoying the holidays, John Maginnis says the family of Sen. David Vitter will be deep in reflection and prayer over whether or not Dad should run for governor. "Oh, please, pass the egg nog," Maginnis writes in his latest column. "For all the difference their meditations would make to a decision probably already made, the Vitters would do well to hang ornaments and go caroling with the neighbors instead." Maginnis says "it's hard to imagine Vitter asking his supporters, as he did in an email last week, for their 'thoughts and prayers' about whether to 'bring my focus and leadership to the challenges we face as a state' and then to up and say next month, 'Nah, I'll pass.'" That Vitter will declare his candidacy in January would not surprise those who have watched him begin to turn his back on Washington and get more involved in state politics—including sharply second-guessing Gov. Bobby Jindal—Maginnis says. "Others, though, would wonder what would possess him to give up a seat in the Senate, safe for life, to come home to a job limited to two terms and largely affected by decisions made in Washington," he writes. "That answer is easy for any Louisiana boy raised on politics, for whom the Governor's Mansion is where the action and fun is, as opposed to these days in Congress, bereft of action or fun. For a man who knows he is not going to be president, governor of Louisiana is the next best thing." Read the full column.(John Maginnis and Jeremy Alford publish
LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow them on Twitter, or on Facebook.)
St. Joseph's to triple the size of parish hall
Father Paul Counce, the pastor of St. Joseph's Cathedral, gave a presentation on the refurbishing and expansion of the parish hall, which began three weeks ago, at the DDD meeting this morning. Stuart and Company General Contractors is the contractor for the approximately $3.4 million project, which includes expanding the 5,000-square-foot parish hall to 15,000 square feet—9,900 square feet of interior space and 5,100 square feet of outdoor covered space—Fr. Paul said. The renovation project will nearly triple the hall's assembly area to accommodate 200-300 people for community events and receptions. Plans are also included to update and double the size of the kitchen, making events easier to cater, and add a porte cochère through the hall into the cathedral. The project will enlarge the restroom area, renovate the lobby, expand the auditorium, and update the choir practice room, as well. Fr. Paul said the new assembly area and multipurpose room will have dividers to create smaller spaces to be used for wedding preparations and religious education classes as well as civic meetings for the downtown community. No construction work will be done on the cathedral's interior or exterior, although new air conditioning is being installed. Davis Rhorer, Executive Director of DDD, expressed gratitude for the cathedral's commitment to downtown at this morning's meeting. "The faith community is the backbone of DDD," Rhorer said. The expected completion date for the project is September 14, 2014. —Rachel Alexander
'Real Estate Weekly': Finding tenant for downtown spot near Town Square proving difficult
In a burgeoning downtown, you might think a highly visible retail storefront on North Boulevard across from the new Town Square would be a coveted location. But as Real Estate Weekly
reports, the space that was the longtime home of City Newsstand before it closed last year has proven tricky to lease, according to property manager Snappy Jacobs. "The challenge is, when you think about who should be there and who can afford to absorb some of the build-out, you realize it requires someone with wealth, a good track record and a well–thought-out business plan," Jacobs says. Such prospective tenants are apparently in short supply. That is one reason Jacobs decided to combine the space at 311 North Blvd. with the adjacent vacant space at 315 North Blvd., which, until last summer, housed Jobe's Café. "I think the spaces are best used together, so we are marketing them as one," he says of the combined 3,200 square feet. Jacobs says the space has attracted plenty of tire kickers but no serious prospects so far. Whoever leases the space will have to do a considerable build-out, he says, adding that while a restaurant tenant would be ideal, the property has inherent challenges: no rear access and the notoriously difficult downtown garbage pickup. "We would like a food-service tenant," he says. "We think retail is good—and better for the area than office; but if the right office tenant came, I'd talk to them." —Stephanie Riegel Check out the new Real Estate Weekly e-newsletter.
City design, planning event brings mayors from across the U.S. to LSU
A two-day, closed-door workshop attended by eight mayors from across the nation will kick off at LSU Wednesday, with Mayor Kip Holden serving as host and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne set to deliver opening remarks. The regional meeting of the Mayors' Institute on City Design marks the first time the event has taken place in Baton Rouge. The institute, established in 1986, aims to prepare mayors to be the "chief urban designers of their cities." Mayors who are participating in this week's event at LSU are from Covington, Ken.; Hinesville, Ga.; Houma; Jupiter, Fla.; San Marcos, Texas; Wheeling, W. Va.; and Portsmouth, Va. Also scheduled to attend are design, planning and real estate professionals from other communities including Bay St. Louis, Miss.; Baltimore; Chicago; Watertown, Mass.; New York City and Raleigh, N.C.. Capital Region Planning Commission Executive Director Jamie Setze is also on the list of confirmed participants. At the session, each mayor will present a case study on a design project or planning issue affecting his or her city, and the group will discuss and pose possible solutions. LSU was one of two institutions selected in a competitive process by the institute to host a regional session, which is being presented by the LSU Coastal Sustainability Studio. —Staff report
Miss. utility regulators reject Entergy-ITC transmission merger
Mississippi utility regulators have unanimously rejected a proposal by Entergy Corp. and ITC Holdings Corp. for Entergy to spin off its 15,400-mile electric transmission business to ITC via a merger. Entergy's transmission system serves parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas. Public Service Commission members say the deal could've meant a $300 million rate increase for Mississippi customers over 30 years. Entergy executives say they're disappointed in the Mississippi regulators' vote today and will work with ITC to determine the companies' next steps. In 2011, New Orleans-based Entergy said it would transfer its high-voltage lines to Novi, Mich.-based ITC, which would issue Entergy shareholders enough stock to give them a majority of ITC shares worth more than $2 billion. ITC would assume $1.78 billion in debt under the deal, The Associated Press reports. The merger request also was filed in other states Entergy serves—Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. Regulators in those states have not acted on the merger proposal yet.
News roundup: Gas-for-guns exchange being held in B.R. Saturday … Insurance Department says some EBR residents will see drop in fire insurance rates … Jury gets ex-cop's case over Katrina shooting … Judge rejects mistrial for former BP e
Fuel for firearms:
The city-parish and Circle K are partnering on a gas-for-guns exchange program on Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at the Living Faith Christian Center, 6375 Winbourne Ave. Under the "no questions asked" program, officials will offer gas gift cards valued from $50 to $300 for each qualifying handgun and assault weapon turned in by the public. The program is limited to two gift cards per person, but no guns or ammunition will be turned away for those wishing to safely dispose of it. Get the complete event details.On the way down:
Due to improved fire protection gradings, East Baton Rouge Parish homeowners in Fire District 9 (which includes the Alsen area) and Chaneyville Fire District 7 (just east of Zachary corporate limits) can expect "significant rate reductions" in their fire insurance premiums, effective Jan. 6, says Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon. He adds the amount of each policy rate reduction will vary, depending on the value of the property, the fire district where the property is located and the rate schedule of the company insuring the property. In deliberation:
For the second time in three years, a federal jury must decide whether fear or malice drove a former New Orleans police officer to fatally shoot a man outside a strip mall less than a week after Hurricane Katrina's landfall. At the conclusion of David Warren's retrial today, The Associated Press reports a prosecutor said the rookie officer shot and killed 31-year-old Henry Glover because he hated looters and thought nobody would care during the chaotic aftermath of the 2005 storm. Warren testified on Monday that he feared for his life when he shot Glover because he thought he saw a gun in his hand. The Associated Press has the full story. The latest motion:
A federal judge has refused to declare a mistrial in the case of former BP drilling engineer Kurt Mix, who is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly deleting text messages and voicemails about the company's response to its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The Associated Press reports that in a filing today, defense lawyers claimed that an earlier court order precluded prosecutors from raising questions of a witness about whether Mix ordered copies made of spill-related documents in order to eliminate possibly incriminating hand-written notes made in some of the margins. U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. ruled today that he would instruct jurors to disregard the testimony. However he declined to declare a mistrial.