Funding flowing to Town Square, greenway and Repentance Park projects
The DOTD has approved spending $1.9 million in state and federal Transportation Enhancement Funds to improve and expand the North Boulevard Town Square. The north side of North Boulevard, between Third and Fourth streets, will be improved with the funds, which will also be used to upgrade the boulevard east one block to Fifth Street and west one block to River Road from the existing Town Square work. The St. Phillip Street Promenade will also be built, with the pavement to be similar to the Shaw Plaza brickwork, DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer says. The Metro Council has approved $325,000 in state sales tax rebates for improvements to nearby Repentance Park; and later this month the council will consider approving further rebate spending, including $200,000 for Lafayette Street improvements, $100,000 for riverfront gateway improvements, $50,000 to light the Town Square canopy structure, and $30,000 for Town Square signage. By law, those funds are dedicated to riverfront development. The DDD also is working with the East Baton Rouge Mortgage Finance Authority to secure about $250,000 for the city's greenway project so that it can be made "shovel-ready" if and when grant funds materialize. Implementation of the first phase of the greenway is already funded. In other downtown news, a Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches is planned for the retail space in the state-owned garage on Third Street, with a possible opening date in October. —David Jacobs
Republican candidates for La. Supreme Court debate health care law
Three Republican candidates for the Louisiana Supreme Court today debated the implications of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last month to uphold the Affordable Care Act, among other legal issues, at the monthly Ronald Reagan Newsmaker Luncheon in Baton Rouge. The candidates largely agreed with one another that U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' decision not to uphold the act under the Commerce Clause was the right decision, but they were equally dismayed by his opinion that government can penalize citizens with a tax for not buying health insurance. The candidates included Court of Appeal First Circuit Judge Toni Higginbotham of Baton Rouge, Court of Appeal First Circuit Judge Jefferson Hughes of Livingston, and Court of Appeal First Circuit Judge Jewel "Duke" Welch of Baton Rouge. State District Judge William Morvant, who was expected to join the debate, was not present because he was in court, says luncheon chairman Richie Edmonds. Court of Appeal First Circuit Judge John Guidry, a Democrat, did not attend the debate but is also a candidate for the Louisiana Supreme Court seat. The candidates are vying for the seat that will be left vacant with the retirement of Chief Justice Catherine "Kitty" Kimball, who has served on the state Supreme Court for 20 years. —Adam Pearson Read the full story here.
'Real Estate Weekly': New landlords organization getting organized
After being incorporated last fall, when the Metro Council was considering imposing new regulations on landlords via an ordinance that ultimately failed, the Baton Rouge Independent Landlords Organization will begin to take shape next week when its first organizational and planning meeting is held. "Since there is no pressing, emergency issue, we thought this would be a [good] time to begin to gather ideas and issues for the organization, mission and operations … as well as topics of interest and concern which individual landlords suggest," reads an invitation recently sent by the organization's founder, Steve Myers, to his fellow independent landlords, whom he identifies as "individuals who own or manage low-density rental dwellings, including single-family dwellings, duplexes, stand-alone four-plexes, garage apartments and individual townhomes or condominiums." The meeting is set for 8:30 to 11 a.m. on Thursday, July 19, at the offices of the Greater Baton Rouge Association of Realtors, 14101 Perkins Road. Among the agenda items are some of the basics you'd expect: discussion about developing a mission statement, a meeting schedule, organizational structure and focal points. But the draft agenda also includes some meatier items, including "support/opposition/recruitment" of candidates for the fall mayoral and council races, and an update on the regulation push that prompted Myers to form the group last year. —Steve Sanoski Read the rest of this story in the new Real Estate Weekly e-newsletter here.
Judge denies effort to thwart start of statewide voucher program
Baton Rouge Judge Tim Kelley today determined he couldn't issue an injunction blocking the August start of the statewide school voucher program because a law bars an injunction if a state agency chief says issuing one would cause a deficit within the department. Superintendent of Education John White and Gov. Bobby Jindal's top budget adviser, Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, had said in affidavits to the court that the Department of Education would face just such a deficit if the laws creating and funding the voucher program were blocked. Kelley's ruling means the program pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal will begin in August as planned, while a lawsuit filed by teachers unions and local school boards over the constitutionality of the voucher program continues to wend its way through the court. The program will use public tax dollars to send children to private and parochial schools. Lawyers for two teachers unions and dozens of local school boards sought to stop the voucher program and other new education funding plans from starting in the 2012-13 school year, arguing the financing plans and the law creating the programs were unconstitutional. "I just don't see how I can give you an injunction once I have those certifications," Kelley said, citing four previous appeals court cases. The two sides disagreed over whether an injunction would create a budget hole. But Kelley said, under the law, he's not allowed to decide whether he believes the Jindal administration is correct about the deficit because the affidavits have been filed. The unions and school boards haven't decided yet whether they will appeal the decision.
Shaw Group loses $16M during fiscal 3Q
The Shaw Group says its losses narrowed in its fiscal third quarter, though most of that reduction is due to the fact that the company took a special impairment charge in the same period last year. The Baton Rouge-based technology and engineering firm reports today a net loss of $16 million, or 24 cents per share, for the three months ended May 31. That compares with a loss of $70 million, or 89 cents per share, for the same quarter in 2011. The year-ago period included an impairment charge of $48.1 million. Per-share results reflect a 16% drop in the number of outstanding shares in the recent quarter from a year ago. Revenue increased by 5% in the quarter to $1.56 billion, from $1.49 billion last year. Analysts, on average, had expected revenue of $1.48 billion, according to FactSet. Shaw says its quarterly losses were mainly due to costs associated with winding down its energy and chemicals business, which it expects to sell to French oilfield services group Technip for $300 million in the fourth quarter. Shaw also took a $12.4 million charge related to a legal settlement with GenOn Mid-Atlantic over a 2007 power plant contract. Shaw says it expects to earn adjusted profit between $2.20 and $2.30 per share on revenue of $5.5 billion to $6 billion in its fiscal 2012 year. Analysts, on average, expect adjusted profit of $2.16 per share, with estimates ranging from $1.90 to $2.29.
Veto session scrapped by Louisiana Senate
A July legislative session to consider overturning Gov. Bobby Jindal's vetoes has been canceled. State Senate President John Alario and House Speaker Chuck Kleckley announced today that enough written declarations were submitted by lawmakers to scrap the July 14 veto session. The Louisiana Senate was the deciding chamber. The veto session was automatically set when Jindal rejected 21 bills from the regular legislative session and used his line-item veto on the $25.6 billion budget. It takes a majority written vote of either the House or the Senate to cancel the session. State senators overwhelmingly decided against holding the session, with 31 of the 39 senators turning in paperwork to cancel it. Fifty-two of 105 House members also requested to cancel the session, but that was one vote short of a majority in the chamber. Legislative leaders weren't expecting lawmakers to hold a veto session, as they've haven't held one since the current Louisiana Constitution was enacted four decades ago. Two-thirds of senators had turned in their paperwork two weeks ago to jettison the session, but the numbers weren't official until midnight Monday, the deadline for lawmakers to change their minds.
News roundup: LSU marching band named among nation's best … La. farmers plant more soybeans, less cotton … B.R. Magnet High kids taking solar car to national competition … Devon's latest Tuscaloosa Shale well the most productive yet
High stepping: "The Golden Band from Tigerland" has marched its way onto The Huffington Post's top 10 list of The Best Marching Bands for 2011-12. The LSU Tiger Marching Band "dazzles audiences with their consistent talent and their 'Golden Girls,' " the paper says. "The band received the Sudler Trophy in 2002, and in 2008 won a contest sponsored by ESPN, Paramount Pictures, and Lucasfilm called 'Battle of the Bands.' " Check out the complete top 10 list, including links to performance videos, here.
Playing the field: The U.S. Department of Agriculture says Louisiana farmers are planting more soybeans this year than they have in 14 years, but less rice—and may tie a record low for cotton. The USDA's July crop report says Louisiana farmers are planting 1.14 million acres of soybeans, the highest since 1.2 million acres in 1998 and 70,000 acres more than projected in March. They've planted about 400,000 acres of rice, down 23,000 from 2011 and 55,000 acres less than they'd planned in March. Officials expect 230,000 acres to be planted in cotton, tying a low-acreage record set in 2009.
Here comes the sun king: Sun Dog Racer, a solar car designed and built by Baton Rouge Magnet High School students, will be among 31 such cars from 23 states and Puerto Rico competing at the 2012 Solar Car Challenge at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth this weekend. The students involved in the project have been working on the car for a year and compose the only team from Louisiana in the competition. The competition wraps up July 19 after about four days of racing.
Slick returns: Devon Energy recently completed its fourth horizontal well in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, and the initial production test figures from the St. Helena Parish well submitted this week show the strongest oil production results of the company's Tuscaloosa wells drilled to date, DNR Secretary Scott Angelle announced today. The well is producing 384 barrels of oil per day, he says. Devon also has two productive horizontal wells in East Feliciana Parish and another in Tangipahoa Parish. The company has two other well projects in progress: one in Tangipahoa and one in West Feliciana parishes.
Editor's note: John Maginnis is on vacation this week. His column will return next week.