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Old Posted Apr 27, 2009, 4:45 PM
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Bills aim to foster start-up firms in Louisiana

Posted by Kate Moran
The Times-Picayune
April 25, 2009 2:00PM

To address the dearth of venture capital for small businesses across Louisiana, a state senator and representative have filed companion bills that would give insurance companies a tax credit in exchange for investing in the state's entrepreneurs.

The business community has quickly rallied around the legislation, which could unleash as much as $200 million to promote entrepreneurship at a time when credit markets remain lockjawed. Business leaders said the bills would both armor the state against recession in the short term and create a window for growth once the nation's economy had recovered.

Unlike the federal government, most states cannot turn to deficit spending to buoy the economy in troubled times. Michael Johnson, managing director of Advantage Capital Partners, one of a handful of venture capital firms in Louisiana, said states must instead assemble a pool of private capital they can steer to fledging businesses.

The companion bills before the Legislature, which goes into session Monday, would reduce the tax insurance companies have to pay on the premiums they write in Louisiana. In exchange, the companies would have to invest in small businesses that have at least 80 percent of their employees based in this state.

"Insurance companies have massive amounts of capital they deploy in the fixed-income world, in Treasuries and corporate bonds, and this is a way to attract a portion of that capital and use it to make investments the companies would not otherwise make," Johnson said.

The state has run into fiscal trouble as its oil and gas revenues have declined, and the Legislature is expected to make cuts this year in health care and higher education spending. While offering tax credits to insurers would likely be a nonstarter in the current fiscal climate, the authors of the companion venture capital bills have devised a way to limit their impact on the public fisc until at least 2013.

Insurance companies cannot make investments through the Louisiana Entrepreneurial Assistance and Development Program before 2010, and they cannot avail themselves of the tax credit until at least three years after the initial investment -- delaying the impact to the state until 2013 and beyond. By that time, some of the startups that received a grubstake through the program would presumably have expanded their payroll and started generating taxes for the state.

Insurers make ideal private partners for the state because they value of the premiums they write is relatively stable, Johnson said. Other investors might be less enticed by the prospect of a tax credit if their income in three years is likely to prove more volatile.

It was not known last week whether the governor and his economic development secretary, Stephen Moret, might endorse the insurance tax credits as a way to attract venture and expansion capital to Louisiana. Moret's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Hunter Greene, a Baton Rouge Republican and the sponsor of the House bill, cautioned that it would compete with a welter of other bills that also propose some form of tax cut to stimulate some segment of the economy.

"This is a bill that is going to compete for very limited capacity in the budget for tax credits, tax deductions, tax exemptions, phaseouts or whatever it may be," Greene said.

Tim Williamson, president of the Idea Village, a New Orleans nonprofit that nurtures entrepreneurship, said the program would send a strong signal to the small entrepreneurial community that has started flowering in the city. A number of these homegrown businesses, such as iSeatz.com and TurboSquid.com, just moved their offices into The I.P., a building on Magazine Street that aims to foster a freewheeling, mini-Silicon Valley atmosphere in New Orleans.

A new pool of venture capital could help attract business professionals to Louisiana who have been laid off from jobs on Wall Street and might be looking to strike out on their own, Williamson said.

"That type of legislation is really critical to sending the message to talent here and talent around the country that Louisiana is a center of talent, innovation and entrepreneurship," he said.

Scott Kirkpatrick, president of the Louisiana Coalition for Capital, said the state ranks poorly in the access its businesses have to venture capital. While the legislation would not benefit new businesses engaged in real estate development, banking, lending, gambling and insurance, it could provide a lift to countless other industries.

"This bill really stands out because it is putting $200 million on the street in the coming years for small businesses, entrepreneurs and tech companies that are all critical not only to our current economic needs, but also to the future," Kirkpatrick said.

Greene's bill is No. 732 in the House. Its companion, Senate Bill No. 274, was sponsored by Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton. The text of both bills says the state should incubate small and medium-size businesses because they create the majority of new jobs.

"States realize they need to stay competitive not only in the big elephant hunt, where they are trying to lure a car plant, for example, but also in growing and retaining entrepreneurial businesses that might turn into a future large employer," said Johnson, the managing director of Advantage Capital Partners. "States are fast realizing the value of those types of companies."
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Old Posted Apr 27, 2009, 4:47 PM
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New Orleans area gained 1,700 jobs in March

Posted by The Times-Picayune
April 24, 2009 3:46PM

The New Orleans metro area gained 1,700 jobs in March, according to figures released this afternoon by the Louisiana Workforce Commission.

The gains came across a range of industries, including hospitality, retail trade, and educational services. But the local job count was still shy of where it was in March of 2008.

There were 527,300 nonfarm jobs in the seven-parish New Orleans area in March, compared with 525,600 in February and 528,400 in March of 2008. The tally of nonfarm jobs is based on a survey of employers and the number of jobs they say they have, which can be influenced by seasonal fluctuations in hiring.

The New Orleans unemployment rate was 5.3 percent in March, unchanged from its level in February. In March of 2008, the local unemployment rate was 3.4 percent.

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Old Posted Apr 28, 2009, 8:44 PM
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City to buy former Holy Cross campus in Lower 9th Ward

by David Hammer
The Times-Picayune
Tuesday April 28, 2009

The Louisiana Recovery Authority cleared the way today for the city to use $2 million to buy the devastated Holy Cross School in the Lower 9th Ward.

It's the first step to converting the campus into a National Center for Community Health and Research facility, according to a statement from the LRA.

The state agency approved the use of part of the city's $411 million in long-term recovery money to start the project. The city has been using the federal Community Development Block Grant money for various infrastructure projects as the LRA has approved them.

The Holy Cross project would take the historic school grounds and establish a center "to promote wellness, improve disease management and enhance quality of life in this medically underserved community, where 60 percent of residents have low-to-moderate incomes," the statement said.

The city's Health Department is spearheading the project along with the Orleans Recovery Foundation.

The plan is to have FEMA demolish all of the buildings on the 12-acre school site, with the exception of the school's historic administration building, which was previously donated to the city. The school, which has been an anchor for that section of the Lower 9th Ward since 1879, relocated to Gentilly after Hurricane Katrina wiped out most of the old neighborhood.
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Old Posted Apr 30, 2009, 10:34 PM
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State, Saints reach deal

The Advocate AP sports writter
Apr 30, 2009

The New Orleans Saints have agreed to a lease extension that will keep the NFL team playing home games in an improved Louisiana Superdome through the 2025 season.

An announcement by Saints owner Tom Benson and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday at the Superdome.

"With this new deal with the state, we're going to be here for a long, long time," Benson said in a video presentation to lawmakers ahead of the announcement. The video was seen by the Associated Press.

"I've got a lot of confidence in our city," said Benson, a New Orleans native.

Benson and Jindal wanted a long-term extension in place by this spring to improve New Orleans' bid to host the 2013 Super Bowl.

It would be the city's 10th Super Bowl and the seventh in the Superdome, an iconic, 34-year-old structure that has hosted some of the nation's most memorable sporting events, world famous musical acts and even the late Pope John Paul II.

On Wednesday, a video presentation of the proposed deal was shown in Baton Rouge to state legislators, who will have to approve the new lease. Afterward, state Sen. John Alario said the complex deal would cap direct state cash payments to the NFL team at about $6 million a year.

Alario, D-Westwego, a powerful New Orleans area lawmaker, said the state could pay even less than $6 million each year, depending on how much money the Saints get from other income sources.

The arrangement would be far less than the $23.5 million the state is slated pay the Saints annually in a direct cash subsidy over next three years.

The state will be giving money to Benson in other ways, however.

The state has agreed to spend $85 million to improve the Superdome and additional money to lease office space for local state agencies at a downtown property Benson has an agreement to buy.

The property, next to the stadium, has been abandoned since Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and was known as the Dominion Tower and the New Orleans Centre mall.

Improvements to the dome — such as expanded field-level seating, new exclusive lounges, additional suites and more concession stands — are expected to create more moneymaking opportunities for the team.

The state will pay more than $6 million a year to rent the office space, a parking garage and the mall, where plans call for a plaza that could host outdoor concerts and also house bars, restaurants and shops.

The Saints have agreed to give back a combined $10.5 million out of the three remaining $23.5 million state payments so the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District can use that money for redevelopment projects in the abandoned mall. Once the projects are finished, the LSED will keep the revenues generated by events using that space.

Cash subsidies totaling $186.5 million over 10 years were part of the current lease that took effect in 2001. That lease ran through 2018, but once the subsidies ended following the 2010 season, the Saints would have had the right to leave by paying a $15 million penalty.

While it remains up to Benson and Jindal to sign off on the new deal, chief negotiators included Saints vice president and chief financial officer Dennis Lauscha, LSED chairman Ron Forman and SMG senior vice president Doug Thornton.

Thornton, whose company manages the Superdome and neighboring New Orleans Arena for the state, was the force behind the unprecedented nine-month rebuilding of the dome after Hurricane Katrina, which allowed the Saints to return for the 2006 season.

The initial rebuilding of the Superdome included replacement of the roof, cleaning and gutting of much of the building, and the rebuilding of suites and club lounges. This year, floor-to-ceiling windows were installed in the stadium's four club lounges. Ongoing improvements include the addition of escalators that will bring club ticket holders directly from a public plaza into the lounges, and new siding. The costs for all the repairs and improvements so far total about $220 million.

The new extension calls for replacing field level seating so it hugs the rectangular contours of the football field, as opposed to its current, semi-oval layout. The change will add about 3,000 seats. New lounges will be added under lower sideline seats.

The lower concourse will be widened by more than double so concession stands may be added and bathrooms expanded. The press box would be moved from the suite level to the upper deck, allowing for more suites or premium seating.

The changes would benefit not just the Saints, but also the Sugar Bowl, Tulane football, the Bayou Classic featuring Grambling State and Southern, and other major events slated for the building, including the college basketball men's Final Four in 2012.

The Saints contend additional revenues are necessary in small-market New Orleans, which lacks the big business headquarters on which many major professional teams rely for sponsorships and suite sales. The state never debated that, but looked to wean the team off of the large direct cash subsidies agreed upon in the 2001 lease.

During the administration of then-Gov. Mike Foster, the state hoped it would have the cash to pay the Saints' annual subsidies based on projected hotel tax revenues in the New Orleans area. Those projections, made before the 9/11 terrorist attacks hurt tourism, wound up being far too optimistic. Since then, Katrina and now the current economic recession have provided further blows, and the state repeatedly has been forced to dig into general funds to meet its financial obligations to the Saints.

In the current economic climate, state officials saw a chance to compromise by improving the state-owned Superdome. That way, the Saints — who do not pay rent and unlike many pro clubs are not burdened by stadium debt service — could have an opportunity to greatly increase net revenue. Saints games at the dome have sold out all three seasons since the team's return.

At the same time, the city would get a downtown high-rise back in business and the state would have the benefit of an improved stadium that serves as an engine for its tourism industry. Finally, the deal will not require any new taxes.
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Old Posted May 4, 2009, 3:35 PM
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The economic downturn appears not to have hurt Jazz Fest

Posted by Jaquetta White
The Times-Picayune
May 03, 2009

Every spring for the past 20 years, Robin Akers and Pam Bixter have flown from their respective homes in Chicago and Colorado to meet up at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell. It's the one time a year the longtime friends visit with each other.

They came in 2002, months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They were here in 2006, just after Hurricane Katrina. And Thursday, they were at Jazz Fest again, determined to continue their long-standing tradition even in the midst of the national recession.

"I paid more for an airline ticket than I ever have. But there are so many wonderful traditions we have here," Akers said, as the two sat in the grass near food booths poring over the day's music lineup. "Our tradition is crawfish bread and beer as soon as we get out here, so that hasn't changed."

Although Jazz Fest officials won't have official attendance records until Monday, there are early indications that this year's festival has managed to overcome recession scares and gripes about higher ticket costs to become one of the most well-attended since Hurricane Katrina. "It's a good year for festivals because the value is there," said Louis Edwards, associate producer of the festival. "People want their dollars to be spent well. And there's so much to choose from." 

'Numbers are good'

During the first weekend of Jazz Fest, sales of "walk-up" tickets, those sold on site, were the highest they've been since Katrina, Edwards said. Those tickets typically make up about 30 percent of total Jazz Fest ticket sales.

Sunny weather and a stellar line-up that included the Dave Matthews Band; Etta James; and Earth, Wind and Fire contributed to the increase, Edwards said.

Hotels are reporting occupancy in the high 90 percent range for both weekends, not a sellout but more than respectable considering the impact the dour national economy has had on travel.

"Events stimulate traffic. We're finding that when we have these types of events, we do good business," said Al Groos, vice president and general manager of the Royal Sonesta Hotel. "We're not seeing tremendous growth, but the numbers are good."

Local hotels are still unable to command the room night minimums they once did during Jazz Fest, and rates are down year over year, but the business is a welcome change from the empty rooms hoteliers are seeing as a result of a cutback in corporate travel, said Gil Zanchi, general manager of the Marriott New Orleans, which is about 98 percent full for the Jazz Fest weekends.

Despite the national downturn, Groos said bookings at the Sonesta are about the same this year as last.

"Is (Jazz Fest) recession proof? I don't know," Groos said. "But it certainly appeared to be."

'The way it is'

Shawn King has not scaled back her Jazz Fest plan at all this year. The New Orleanian said she still intends to eat a soft-shell crab po-boy on each of the five days she's at the festival, a meal that has become a tradition for her at the event.

"It's just something I have to do every year," King said. "It's expensive when you look at it. But that's the way it is."

King's attitude makes food vendors such as Julie Vaucresson happy. Vaucresson Sausage Co. sells crawfish sausage and hot sausage po-boys at the festival.

"This has been one of the better ones since Katrina," said Vaucresson, the company's operations manager. "You would think that this type of environment would have a negative impact on sales."

Iva Jones, whose company Catering Unlimited sells jambalaya, agreed.

"There's no recession at Jazz Fest," Jones said. "They look like they've got a little more money to spend."

But a few booths down at Panoroma Fine Foods, where the menu included crawfish bread and shrimp bread, owner John Ed Laborde said he could see the effects of the recession on sales. Laborde's sales were down 8 percent to 10 percent in the first weekend compared with the average of first-weekend sales for the past five years.

"I think people are being a little more frugal," Laborde said. "I think in my case, instead of people saying 'Give me two crawfish breads,' they're buying one and sharing it."

But the cuts haven't made the trip any less worthwhile.

"I was very worried because it's a tremendous investment for me," said Laborde, whose Marksville-based catering company shuts down for three weeks to participate in the festival each year. "I'm glad people are finding the money to come here."

While she found money to buy crawfish bread, Bixter said she might make other cuts while in town. Instead of planning multiple nights of fine dining after the Fest, she said she'd stick with one this year.

"It's making us think," Bixter said. "We certainly won't go to an expensive place more than once."

Too expensive for some

For some locals, though, Jazz Fest itself is out of reach. Dianne Wooden, who received a complimentary ticket to attend the festival Thursday from a nonprofit group that cares for elderly residents, said she would have skipped the festival otherwise.

"I definitely would not have been able to afford it," Wooden said. "It's a good deal for what you get, but it's just not in my ballpark because of the economy and just my personal situation."

Jazz Fest tickets were $40 in advance and $50 at the gate this year. Two years ago, tickets were $35 in advance and $40 at the gate. In 2004, tickets cost half what they do now: $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. The increase has helped pay for an expanded talent roster that includes more national recording artists, and Jazz Fest is still priced less than many other national music festivals.

But it is still too much for Thomas Royster, who can hear bands play from his North Gayoso Street home, where he stood Thursday charging Fest attendees to park on his lawn.

"I can't afford it," Royster said. "It's too expensive. They've got the big boys coming and they've got to pay for them, but they've really priced out the locals in a sense.
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Old Posted May 4, 2009, 3:38 PM
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West Bank is experiencing mini boom in hotel construction

Posted by C.J. Lin
The Times-Picayune
May 03, 2009

When the cylindrical tower off the West Bank Expressway quietly reopened as a Holiday Inn earlier this year, it marked the latest addition to a mini building boom on the West Bank.

The Gretna property underwent a one-year, $14 million renovation before its reopening, the latest in a series of investments major hotel chains are making on the West Bank despite the national recession.

Visible from the Crescent City Connection, the landmark is now officially the Holiday Inn New Orleans West Bank Tower, complete with 181 rooms, a 24-hour fitness center, a business center and a restaurant that serves traditional New Orleans favorites like shrimp po-boys and crabmeat au gratin.

"We're proud of it," said Moureen Blackwell, the hotel's sales manager. "We want to see good things happen here on the West Bank and we think this is a good start."

With the Holiday Inn's opening, the number of hotel rooms in Jefferson Parish now totals 7,500, according to Violet Peters, president and CEO of the Jefferson Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau.

On the West Bank alone, 13 major chains account for 1,645 hotel rooms. And most of those West Bank hotels have sprung up over the past 10 years in a building boom that peaked in 2006, said Heather Soules, corporate communications manager of Choice Hotels International, the parent company of the Comfort Inn, Sleep Inn, Clarion Inn and Suburban Inn and Suites.

Choice itself built a Sleep Inn and Comfort Inn from the ground up in Marrero within two blocks of each other in August and December 2007. And other lodging companies are moving forward with their own West Bank facilities: Plans are in place for a new Comfort Suites and a La Quinta Inn.

The Alario Center and spring festivals have helped increase the demand for rooms.

The center hosts at least 19 sports tournaments and 15 galas, dinners and Carnival balls annually. And officials are hopeful that an $8.7 million expansion of the facility last summer will bring more people and more revenue.

The center is in the middle of hosting weekly basketball tournaments that bring youth teams and their families from all over the state as well as Texas and Florida, said Michael Samardzija, marketing manager of the center.

"The clientele is there," Peters said. "Even before the economic downturn, business in Jefferson Parish has really been steady."

But the majority of demand for hotel rooms comes from oil, gas, manufacturing and service industries, most of which are based on the West Bank. The military also demands hotel rooms on the West Bank because of the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Belle Chasse and defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which builds ships out of Avondale.

John Merkin, senior vice president of the Americas division of the Holiday Inn, said that the demand from those industries, the West Bank's location to downtown New Orleans and its mid-market cost of living, and the lack of extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina make the area a prime location for growth.

"It's a natural area for hotel development," Merkin said.

Not all good news

Despite the growth in the number of hotels, operators say that they are seeing some declines in occupancy rates with the struggling national economy.

Last year, the occupancy rate at the Sleep Inn was about 80 percent, said Lisa Nguyen, assistant general manager. It has since dropped to about 40 percent to 45 percent.

"It's a deep plunge and it's a bit scary, but we're trying to stay in there," Nguyen said.

Occupancy rates have fallen from 90 percent last year to 70 percent at the Best Western Westbank on Lapalco Boulevard in Harvey. The hotel housed only police and Red Cross relief workers for months following Hurricane Katrina.

Its owner, Dawn Boteler, opened the hotel in November 1984 because the West Bank was a developing area. But the current national recession has dampened the outlook.

"Things have changed dramatically," Boteler said. "I just don't see a rosy future until things turn around."

He said he's seen companies on the West Bank, including several oilfield companies, pack up their operations and take potential customers with them. Most of his customers are oilfield and shipyard workers, corporate clients and government officials from the naval airbase. Tourists account for less than 5 percent of his business.

"Everybody believes in this 'If you build it, they will come,' but it doesn't work anymore," said Boteler, citing the opening of several new hotels.

Others are more optimistic.

Nguyen is confident that rooms will fill up again as she sees small businesses continue to pop up on the West Bank despite the recession. She's also noticed an increase in clients from the construction industry.

"On the West Bank, it's booming businesses now, even in a time like this," Nguyen said. "People are still traveling, but everybody is trying to cut back."

More companies are booking mid-priced hotels such as the Sleep Inn instead of luxury hotels in downtown New Orleans. West Bank hotels also attract the overflow when downtown hotels are booked, which allows them to rent out rooms at higher prices.

"Believe it or not, it's flipped," said Joseph O'Connor, vice president of BN Management Co., which owns the Comfort Inn. "We do better than those hotels. We sometimes pull a little higher rates while the big hotels fight over occupancy."

The demand for hotel rooms in the Harvey area remains steady because of local shopping, construction and the shipbuilding industry, O'Connor said.

To capitalize on what O'Connor estimates to be an 80 percent occupancy rate in Harvey, BN Management is building a Comfort Suites at 2433 Manhattan Blvd. that is slated for completion next spring. A La Quinta Inn and Suites in Westwego is scheduled to open in 2011.

"There's always demand for hotel rooms as long as there's venues," O'Connor said. "They wouldn't be putting something there if they didn't feel like it was necessary."

A relief in Jefferson

Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts welcomed developers' investments in new properties and existing properties, like the Holiday Inn.

The blighted Tower Hotel had long been a "problem property" for the parish, especially because it was such a visible landmark for anyone coming to the West Bank, he said.

The property suffered from long-term neglect and then sustained more damage during Hurricane Katrina. Windows blown out by the storm were never replaced. Only about 20 rooms were operational when developer Elie Khoury of the KFK Group bought the building in January 2008 for $5 million, seizing on its prime location at 275 Whitney Ave., cheap price and franchise potential.

With the property cleaned up and back in business, it's become an asset that Roberts said will boost the parish's economy.

"It's a real shot in the arm for us because it gives us another offering on the West Bank which is a quality hotel that people want to stay in," Roberts said. "I think it speaks volumes that in the midst of a national recession, that we still have businesses investing and expanding here in Louisiana."

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Old Posted May 10, 2009, 2:39 PM
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Saints deal could transform a section of downtown New Orleans

Posted by Kate Moran
The Times-Picayune
May 10, 2009

If Saints owner Tom Benson succeeds in buying a triad of buildings near the Superdome and tying them into a sports and entertainment district, he could transform a section of downtown marked more by vacancy than commerce of late.

The deal, perhaps the most pivotal the downtown area will see this year, could cement the city's reputation as a host for major sporting events like the Super Bowl. It also keeps the buildings in private hands, an arrangement that appears to offer a number of advantages over and above the original plan for the property that was floated last summer.

The Superdome Commission, the state agency that oversees the region's major athletic venues, had envisioned buying the buildings and developing the festival plaza itself. After the governor's office balked at getting into the real estate business, Benson agreed to buy them as part of an overall deal to keep the Saints in the city through 2025.

Local real estate experts noted that Benson can apply for new market tax credits to restore the Dominion Tower, the New Orleans Centre mall and a nearby parking garage, all of which have sat vacant or partially so since Hurricane Katrina. The tax credits, designed to spur private sector investment in distressed areas, would not have been available had the Superdome Commission itself purchased the property.

While private developers often sell the tax credits to investors, using the proceeds to finance their projects, at least one local real estate expert noted that Benson and his various companies might make enough money that they can take the credits themselves to offset their federal tax burden. Benson did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.

The Benson family, working under the business name Zelia LLC, signed an agreement earlier this month to buy the tower, the mall and the parking garage from California real estate investor Judah Hertz for an undisclosed price. The sale is expected to close on Aug. 1, though the Bensons can request an extension of up to 90 days.

The Superdome Commission signed its own option last summer to buy the suite of buildings for $45 million. The agency had planned to convert the mall into the sports and entertainment district and to lease portions of the Dominion Tower to state agencies whose offices were destroyed by Katrina. The rents from the tower were supposed to service the debt on all three buildings.

The commission let the option expire in December after Jerry Jones, the state's facility planning director, resisted using the tower to house state agencies. The state needs about 320,000 square feet of office space, and the state would have been responsible under the original arrangement for leasing the remainder of the 485,000-square-foot building to commercial tenants. Jones has said he did not want to compete with private landlords.

While the state had considered erecting a new building to replaced its flooded offices, Jones agreed to move about 30 agencies into the Dominion Tower after Benson agreed to serve as the landlord.

"In this case we are only using what we need and will not be responsible for owning and operating, upgrades and maintenance, for more square feet than we need, which would have been the case had the state bought the Dominion Tower as a state-owned facility," Jones said. "Now those responsibilities will be borne by the Saints and not the state."

The state will pay $24 per square foot for the office space in the Dominion Tower, slightly above the going rate of $18 per square foot for downtown Class A buildings. Yet members of the Superdome Commission argued this month that the terms of the proposed lease represent a good deal for the state, partly because it would have cost the state $24 to $26 per square foot to put up a new building.

Local real estate experts tended to agree. For one, they said, the state's rent includes parking. Bruce Sossaman, the leasing director at Equity Office in Metairie and the author of a quarterly report about leasing rates, said the $18-per-square-foot average for downtown offices does not factor in parking.

Sossaman said it is difficult to gauge whether the arrangement is good for state taxpayers without knowing the particulars of the lease. At the same time, he said state leases often cost slightly more per square foot than commercial leases do because the former tend not to have provisions for increases in the landlord's operating expenses.

Paul Dastugue III, president of the local real estate firm Property One, said the price per square foot could appear inflated if the state is paying for a share of the common spaces in the building. He said his company recently did a deal in Lafayette involving a federal agency that paid more than $20 per square foot.

The local real estate community generally rallied around the proposed sale of the Dominion Tower and the New Orleans Centre to Benson, arguing that it would be a shot in the arm for a tired section of downtown. At the same time, they noted it could present lost opportunity for Class B and Class C landlords who now rent space to the state agencies displaced since Katrina. Several of those agencies are now housed in 1010 Common.

"I think overall it is a positive thing for downtown in that you have a property that has been out of commerce since Katrina that basically represented 5 percent of the Class A office space and is going to be put back to use," Rich Stone of NAI Latter & Blum said, referring to the Dominion Tower. "It will also create some activity and buzz on that end of the Poydras strip."
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Artificial reefs may help restore a diversity of fish species to Lake Ponchartrain

by Chris Kirkham
The Times-Picayune
Tuesday May 12, 2009

Five miles out from the New Orleans lakefront, 12 feet below the surface, a new terrain for Lake Pontchartrain took shape Tuesday.

On an acre-and-a-half of shells, cranes strategically dropped 180 hollow concrete balls, some weighing as much as 3,500 pounds, with the hope of creating an ecological hot spot for game fish and anglers who chase them.

After nearly a decade of development, academics and local environmental groups are wrapping up construction on the last of nine artificial reefs in the lake -- most covering one to two acres -- at sites from Slidell to St. Charles Parish.

Officials with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, one of the sponsoring agencies, see the new reefs as the latest comeback for a habitat that was scoured by shell dredging and pollution until the 1990s.

"Very few people took fishing in Lake Pontchartrain seriously, " said John Lopez, director of the foundation's coastal sustainability program. "But now people look at it as a premier spot."

Although the lake is the most visible, most accessible waterway for much of the New Orleans area, the wide-open estuary has often been a bust for anglers hoping to bag large speckled trout and redfish
Even with the marked improvements to water quality in the lake since the 1980s, the landscape is mostly a flat mud bottom that provides little shelter for the crabs and other aquatic life needed to attract pockets of larger fish. Fish like structures, but aside from the bridges and the shorelines, there's little variety in the lake.

"The bottom of the lake -- it's not lifeless, but it's featureless, " said Woody Crews, a board member for the foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana who was on a boat tour surveying the reef-building Tuesday. "Outside of those reef balls, the only feature on this lake is that Causeway."

Since 2000 the basin foundation, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and LSU's Sea Grant College Program have raised money to build the nine artificial reefs. Eight of them have been built with concrete "reef balls, " which have holes bored in them to allow crabs, shrimp and smaller bait fish to grow inside. That in turn attracts larger game fish, which in turn attract humans who catch them.

The reefs are sturdy: none of them was disturbed by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav or Ike. And anglers have reported increased catches in the area within weeks of the reefs being built.

Five artificial reefs were developed between 2000 and 2004, and the newest four have been laid over the past few weeks, at a cost of $160,000.

Crews with Coastal Reef Builders, out of Pensacola, Fla., finished deploying the 180 balls off New Orleans' lakefront Tuesday. The final reef site will be laid today, several miles off Interstate 10 in St. Charles Parish in the southwest corner of the lake.

The reefs rise about four feet from the bottom and should pose no danger to recreational boaters. Coast Guard regulations to not require that they be marked by buoys.

Aside from the immediate results -- new fishing spots -- some of the project developers believe the artificial reefs will attract a more diverse set of fish species to the lake and mimic a habitat that has been lost due to the intense shell dredging of the past.

The rangia clams harvested to build roads throughout south Louisiana from the 1930s until 1991, when the practice was banned, once provided a foundation for the entire lake habitat.

The artificial reefs in Lake Pontchartrain are among the few inshore reefs. The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries oversees an artificial reef program that utilizes old oil rigs, but most of those are miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
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New toll bridge to open on flood-prone route to Grand Isle, Port Fourchon

by Jen DeGregorio
The Times-Picayune
Wednesday May 13, 2009, 6:10 PM

Drivers headed south from the New Orleans area for a trip to Grand Isle will soon have to pay a toll to get there, with the $160 million replacement of the Leeville Bridge slated to open for business some time this summer.

The project will do away with the rickety old drawbridge that now takes two-lane Louisiana 1 over Bayou Lafourche, replacing it with a fixed-span toll bridge. Construction should be done by mid-July, and state officials are ironing out last-minute kinks with the technology that will be used to collect tolls, said Mark Lambert, a spokesman with the state Department of Transportation and Development.

Unlike the Crescent City Connection and the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway -- Louisiana's only other toll bridges -- the Leeville Bridge will not allow travelers to use cash. Motorists will be required to carry an electronic card, much like an EZPass or toll tag, that will take payments linked to credit-card accounts.

With roughly 8,000 vehicles crossing the bridge each day, transportation officials are worried about spreading the word in time. A good weekend can bring as many as 10,000 tourists to Grand Isle alone, said Josie Cheramie, the town's tourism commissioner.

"You're talking about a large amount of people who we would call occasional users," Lambert said. "We want to be sure that we put together an intense public education plan."

The Leeville Bridge technology should be compatible with the system used by the Crescent City Connection, although Lambert was not sure if the Causeway system would be a match.

There will be plenty of visitors who do not have such accounts, however, and they may find themselves stuck without a cash option. Others may be resistant to enrolling in a toll account if they do not plan to visit the area often.

"We also have to have a reasonable assurance that people understand how this process is going to work before we open," Lambert said.

The decision not to have a cash option for the bridge was driven largely by cost considerations.

"If you do that then you have to build a booth, and you have to hire someone to actually collect the money," Lambert said. "It's also something that would really slow down traffic."

Cheramie said she has received little information about the road opening and has been unable to advise hoteliers and other businesses about how to handle the new system. Still, Cheramie said the tolls would be worth the price.

"It's a two-way street," she said. "You have your concerns, but we are also grateful that we're going to have another road."

Tolls, collected only from southbound vehicles, should range from 50 cents for residents who live below the bridge to $12 for large trucks, more than 1,000 of which move daily through Port Fourchon, a hub for offshore oil and gas production just southwest of Grand Isle.

For the offshore industry, the new Leeville Bridge marks a turning point in a larger initiative to elevate 18 miles of highway between Golden Meadow and Port Fourchon. Fuel and transportation companies formed what they call the LA 1 Coalition and have lobbied the state and federal governments for more than a decade to raise the road.

The highway is the only way to get to Port Fourchon, which sits at the lip of the state and serves 90 percent of the deepwater rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. But coastal erosion has left Louisiana 1 prone to flooding, transforming marsh that once grew on either side of the highway into open water in some places.

Ted Falgout, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission, called the Leeville Bridge the "weakest link" on Louisiana 1. The old drawbridge often broke down, causing traffic jams and holding up commerce.

Construction is well under way to elevate Louisiana 1 about eight miles between the Leeville Bridge and Port Fourchon, a roughly $200 million project that should be done by 2011.

Money from the first phase of the project, which includes the bridge and eight-mile elevation, came largely from a mix of federal highway allowances and loans. Louisiana also kicked in about $73 million in highway funds and $35 million from its Coastal Impact Assistance Program, Lambert said.

The LA 1 Coalition is also lobbying for an additional $350 million to elevate Louisiana 1 beyond Leeville to Golden Meadow.

"If you don't protect yourself, you can't have a port," Falgout said, describing the need to fortify the highway.
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Experts: Economic boost associated with holding the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans begins immediately

Posted by Jaquetta White
The Times-Picayune
May 19, 2009

This afternoon's announcement that New Orleans will host Super Bowl XLVII kicked into gear an economic engine that will begin paying dividends almost immediately and last until well after the event takes place in the Crescent City in 2013, local officials said.

On the weekend of the game, hotels will be sold out, restaurants and bars will be filled and retail shops visited. But the spending associated with those acts is only part of the benefit of landing the big game. Because the process of promoting the Super Bowl also requires promoting New Orleans, the event could serve as a catalyst for longer term economic growth, particularly in New Orleans' heavily battered meetings and convention business.

"It's a huge deal because it brings several hundred million dollars in direct impact to the city," said Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau. Perry, along with Entergy New Orleans Chief Executive Rod West, delivered New Orleans' final pitch to the NFL Tuesday afternoon.

"And, when the NFL, which is the most powerful corporate entity in the world, decides that their number one event will be held in New Orleans, it should end any doubt for corporations and associations about meeting here," Perry said.

New Orleans last hosted the Super Bowl in 2002. The event is estimated to have had a $292 million economic impact, said Janet Speyrer, an associate dean for research and an economics professor at the University of New Orleans. That number includes spending on entertainment, shopping, lodging and transportation.

"Super Bowl is the biggest demand generator of any sporting event," said Martin Driskell, general manager of the Hotel Intercontinental New Orleans. "It's much greater than a big citywide (convention)."

The 70,000 visitors the game will attract is equal to about the size of two city-wide conventions, but the impact is greater because of the "wealth factor," said Mavis Early, executive director of the Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association.

Super Bowl weekend is not only about the National Football League's championship game, it is also a business event that attracts executives from top companies worldwide.

"Two major conventions would fill every hotel room, but the Super Bowl would have an even greater impact," Early said. "They spend more money. And they do everything top of the line."

New Orleans currently has 33,720 hotel rooms. Another 500 will be added to that number in June when the Roosevelt Hotel reopens.

Speyrer said UNO has estimated the impact of the 2013 game at $350 million to $400 million. The great variation is attributable to large unknown factors like changes in the attitude toward corporate travel and hotel room rates. The national recession has caused disdain for such travel and room rates in New Orleans have been depressed of late both because of the recession and hurricane recovery. Both of those things could change in four years.

But, perhaps, the greater impact will not be immediately measurable. The NFL's decision, for instance, could go a long way toward shoring up other economic drivers, said Fred Sawyers, general manager of the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel, the city's largest hotel.

"What happens is something like a Super Bowl gets awarded to us and the meetings and convention industry looks to that as a huge vote of confidence," Sawyers said. "It helps us to attract these meetings and conventions that are really our bread and butter."
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Louisiana Offshore Oil Port is well positioned because of dependence on foreign energy

Posted by Jen DeGregorio
The Times-Picayune
May 24, 2009

When the nation's first offshore oil port opened off the coast of Louisiana in 1981, the country was still reeling from an energy crisis that had sapped fuel consumption and slashed commodity prices.

No market meant no profits for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, a platform standing 18 miles south of Grand Isle in the Gulf of Mexico. The port reportedly lost more than $40 million during its first full year of operation and struggled to turn a profit for years after that.

Nearly three decades later, LOOP is a much more lucrative operation. Demand for foreign oil has doubled since the 1980s, and the port receives about as much imported crude as it can handle. LOOP is now awash in profits, with $200 million in cash reserves at the beginning of 2008, according to Moody's Investors Services. LOOP's owners -- Shell Oil Co., Marathon Oil Co. and Murphy Oil Corp. -- shared $70 million in dividends from port operations in 2007, according to Moody's.

With dependence on foreign oil expected to hold steady for at least another decade, LOOP plans to keep raking in the dough. The port is finishing up a $180 million expansion that could bring even more crude through LOOP. Six 600,000-barrel storage tanks are already up and running, and another six should be built by the end of the year.

Domestic production has created a second market. LOOP has pipelines tied into BP's Thunder Horse field and Shell's Mars field in the Gulf of Mexico. Links to other offshore fields may come down the road, said Dale Rollins, LOOP's vice president of business development.

"Our facility is designed to grow," he said.

'Changed the business'

The idea for an offshore oil port began "on the back of a napkin," according to Barb Hestermann, one of LOOP's marketing representatives.

Imported crude has always come into the United States on massive supertankers, some as long as the Empire State Building is tall. But such huge ships are too big for the nation's inland shipping channels.

Before LOOP, supertankers had to unload onto smaller ships capable of taking crude to inland ports, a process called "lightering." Searching for a way to sidestep that process, which was time-consuming and often resulted in spills, LOOP's developers hatched a plan for a port where supertankers could unload directly.

"It changed the business," said Larry Wall, a spokesman for Louisiana's Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association. "Now you can get great quantities of oil at one time."

Still, it took more than a decade of lobbying to convince state and federal regulators to back an offshore oil port. Congress ultimately cleared the way for LOOP with the Deepwater Port Act of 1974.

Others were harder to convince. Opposition came largely from environmentalists concerned about oil spills and other damage to the state's coast. LOOP's development coincided with revelations about Louisiana's endangered marshland, which has been rapidly eroding for decades under the pressures of river levees and industrial development.

LOOP ultimately tore up hundreds of acres of marsh in Lafourche Parish, making room for the complicated network of pumps and pipelines that carry oil from the offshore dock to refineries in Louisiana, Texas and the Midwest. Those facilities represent 50 percent of the nation's refining capacity.

A 1977 editorial in The Times-Picayune half-heartedly welcomed LOOP to Louisiana, calling the port a byproduct of the state's dependence on the oil industry.

"Unfortunately, oil refineries and petrochemical plants .¤.¤. seem to be the only industries we can attract, and the superport will bring us more of them," the editorial said.

Still, the economic arguments triumphed. LOOP cost $770 million to build, bringing a temporary influx of construction jobs to the state. The facility continues to employ about 160 people.

On a given day, roughly 30 workers are stationed offshore, where they work in shifts tending to the daily operations of the LOOP platform.

Others work from an office in Galliano that serves as LOOP's nerve center, which is staffed 24 hours a day. On a recent visit to the building, technicians could be seen buzzing around an arsenal of flat-screen monitors and other gadgets used to remotely control the flow of oil from the offshore platform.

A 48-inch pipeline pumps the oil to a booster station located at Port Fourchon, which then shoots the fuel into caverns carved out of a natural underwater salt dome in Clovelly, near Galliano. From the salt caverns, or from LOOP's above-ground storage tanks, the oil moves in measured batches to refineries.

About 1 million barrels of foreign crude moves each day through LOOP, or roughly 10 percent of all petroleum imported into the United States.

Additional effects

Louisiana gets jobs and some tax dollars directly from LOOP, but there have been many other indirect consequences, Rollins said.

While about half of the nation's refineries have closed since the 1980s, Louisiana has lost only two small facilities since then, leaving the state with 17 active refineries. Most have direct lines to LOOP, although it is difficult to tie the prosperity of the state's refining sector directly to the port, Wall said.

Still, the company that is spearheading one of the biggest refinery expansions ever undertaken credits LOOP for at least part of the decision to launch the $3.4 billion project in Garyville.

Marathon spokesman Robert Calmus said LOOP will provide easy access to oil for the Garyville refinery, which by year's end should be converted from the nation's 18th-biggest refinery to the country's fourth-largest.

"Because Garyville is so close to the Gulf of Mexico, that refinery probably gets more crude from LOOP than our other refineries," Calmus said, estimating that 75 percent of the plant's crude comes through LOOP.

Although Marathon is an owner, the company is not supposed to get special consideration for shipments through LOOP. The port must operate as a common-carrier system, and is regulated by both the state and federal governments, according to Calmus.

"We have to bid for space just like everybody else," he said.

Some concerns

The average consumer might also have ties to LOOP. Many observers think the facility has put some downward pressure on retail fuel prices nationwide, possibly lowering prices at the pump.

"What LOOP has done is minimize the cost of transporting imported crude to selected U.S. refineries," Eric Smith, a Tulane University business professor, wrote in an e-mail. "The LOOP pipeline has also made possible the shipment of some offshore production to shore without the need to build another Gulf of Mexico pipeline."

Gulf production may well be LOOP's next big market. Although domestic oil consumption is not expected to decline by 2030, foreign imports should fall somewhat as production in the Gulf unearths more domestic oil, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

With that in mind, a team of investors recently proposed building a facility similar to LOOP off the coast of Texas, called the Texas Offshore Port System. The proposal has been put on hold, however, after members of the team pulled out.

Although LOOP eventually might want to expand further into Texas, Rollins expressed ambivalence about the prospect of competition.

"We don't see TOPS as a threat," he said.

LOOP's biggest concern is the national economy. LOOP saw shipments slide by roughly 10 percent this year, after demand for oil retracted under the weight of the recession. But Rollins expects shipments to rebound, and even grow, by early next year.

President Barack Obama, who is trying to shift the nation away from fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy, is another concern. Proposed caps on carbon emissions will have a drastic effect on refineries, which produce large amounts of that greenhouse gas, a known contributor to global warming.

But LOOP officials are not sounding any alarm bells.

"We don't see any immediate threats," Rollins said. "The U.S. is going to rely upon petroleum for some time to come."
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Southern Star Amusement in preliminary talks to purchase dormant Six Flags site

Posted by Jaquetta White
The Times-Picayune
May 27, 2009

The would-be amusement park operator that last year shelved its interest in redeveloping the dormant Six Flags site in eastern New Orleans is once again attracted to the project, an executive with the company said.

Southern Star Amusement is in "preliminary talks" with the City of New Orleans to purchase the shuttered theme park, the company's chief financial officer Tonya Pope said.

"We've approached them," Pope said. "We're about to start some more formal meetings."

In 2008, Southern Star Amusement submitted a $70 million plan to the city and Six Flags that called for adding a water park and doubling the number of rides at the eastern New Orleans theme park, which has not reopened since Hurricane Katrina. The company had been conducting due diligence since February 2008, making several trips to the property to evaluate the condition of its buildings and rides. Southern Star had planned, then, to relieve Six Flags of its lease with the city and purchase land it owns adjacent to the park.

But the Baton Rouge start up walked away from that plan after being unable to reach agreements with the city and Six Flags. Pope said the company decided to reopen talks after reading media reports about the most recent dust-up between the city and Six Flags and learning that the amusement park operator is considering filing for bankruptcy.

Six Flags, which has continued to make lease payments to the city, has said that it does not plan to reopen the park.

Six Flags pays $1.4 million a year in rent, which in addition to $1 million a year from the city makes up the $2.4 million annual payment the city must make until 2017 on the Section 108 loan that was used to build the park. The loan was issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The loan has a balance of about $16 million.

The parties have failed to work out a deal that would allow Six Flags to terminate its lease agreement. The city has been hoping to get the theme park operator to make a series of payments in exchange for the ability to back out of the lease.

Earlier this month, Six Flags, at the request of the city, was issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting it from removing any exhibits, rides or other assets from its defunct amusement park and requiring it to secure the property against theft and refrain from collecting any Hurricane Katrina-related insurance proceeds. The city argued that the measure needed to be taken, in part, to prevent a reduction in the property's value. The order expires Thursday, but the city is hoping to have it extended.

City Hall spokeswoman Ceeon Quiet said all attention is tuned to resolving the issues with Six Flags and that the city's legal representatives would only consider the Southern Star Amusement proposal after the Six Flags matter was resolved.

"Our first priority is these negotiations," Quiet said. "The goal from the law department is to wrap this up."

Pope would not say how much Southern Star would offer the city to buy the land, but said any amount offered would not cover the city's loan "because the property is not worth that much." But Southern Star believes that its offer in addition to any sales tax revenue the park would generate after it opened could cover the cost, Pope said.

The company has received bids on the work to restore and reopen the property by May 2010. Pope declined to say how much the company planned to spend on that work, or how it would be financed.

Financing is "a little complicated," she said because it will come from a "variety of sources" including GoZone funds.

"There are a few different mechanisms we're in discussion about," Pope said. "We can't be too specific."

The New Orleans park would be the company's first project.

Southern Star Amusement's plan calls for restoring the park's shuttered rides, including the Mega Zeph, a wooden rollercoaster. "Water park rides and attractions" as well as shade structures, misting stations and indoor rides and shows also are a part of the plan.
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AeroMexic offers new details about New Orleans flights
Posted by The Times-Picayune
May 27, 2009

AeroMexico has released new details about the service it plans to begin this summer between New Orleans and Mexico City.

Flights will leave New Orleans for Mexico city at 6:30 a.m. each day except Saturday, arriving at 9:10 a.m. in Mexico City. The flight will then connect through to San Pedro Sula, arriving in that city at 11:55 a.m.

A return flight will leave San Pedro at 12:45 p.m. each day except Saturday, arriving in Mexico City at 4:10 p.m. That flight will connect through to New Orleans with a 10:30 p.m. arrival in the Crescent City.

The new flights debut July 7.
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The RTA is considering adding new streetcar lines in downtown Nola.

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New Orleans area weighs in with lowest April unemployment rate in the nation

Posted by The Times-Picayune
June 04, 2009 10:59AM

For the second month in a row, the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner area had the lowest unemployment rate among the nation's large metro areas. The Houma-Thibodaux area tied for the second lowest rate, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The April unemployment rate in the New Orleans area held steady at 5.3 percent. The rate in Houma-Thibodaux during that month was 3.6 percent. The Houma area tied with Ames, Iowa, for the second-lowest rate.

"We continue to see signs of resiliency in our state's employment picture," said Tim Barfield, executive director of the Louisiana Workforce Commission. "Low unemployment rates and job growth in some parts of the state are very positive news and give us hope that we will continue to outperform the country as a whole."
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French chemical manufacturer plans $362 million plant in Iberville Parish

Posted by AP
New Orleans Times Picayune
June 19, 2009

A specialty chemicals manufacturer based in France will build a $362 million plant in the chemical belt of Iberville Parish to make polymers, including some that can be used in oil wells to produce more petroleum, company and state officials said Friday.

SNF Holding Co., the U.S. subsidiary of SNF Floerger, said it would create 500 new jobs averaging salaries of at least $57,000 a year, plus benefits. The plant is also expected to have 100 contract workers.

A study by Louisiana State University said that that plant would generate $3.7 billion in new state economic output between 2010 and 2025, $107 million in state tax revenue and $29.9 million in additional local tax revenue.

The state provided an incentive package that includes a performance-based $26.6 million grant for infrastructure at the 800-acre site. That will primarily cover a railroad spur that will serve the plant, and the next-door Shintech plastics plant. The spur will cross Shintech's property.

SNF also will get annual performance-based grants of $1.28 million for 10 years, bringing the state's package to $39.4 million. Iberville Parish also will provide $1 million for public infrastructure.

Originally, four states were in competition to land the plant, said Gov. Bobby Jindal.

"We're here because yet another company has taken note of the progress we have made and because of the direction in which our state is headed," Jindal said Friday at a news conference in Plaquemine.

It's the second big new industrial project to be announced in Louisiana over three days. On Wednesday, a startup auto manufacturer, San Diego-based V-Vehicle Co., said it would assemble a new generation of fuel-efficient vehicles in Monroe, creating 1,400 new jobs.

Stephen Moret, head of the state economic development department, said SNF was one of the companies the state approached during a marketing trip to Europe last fall, when a New Orleans Saints game in London drew various business executives.

"We look forward to building a strong and lasting relationship with the parish and its residents," said Peter Nichols, president of SNF Holding.

SNF has six plants in the United States. The Iberville plant will be its first in Louisiana.

The project still has to be approved by regulatory authorities. SNF said it hoped to start construction during the first quarter of 2010 with manufacturing beginning about a year later. The company said the construction phase would employ about 250 workers.
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Prefabricated home company looks at sites in New Orleans

Posted by Allison Good
The Times-Picayune
June 19, 2009 4:03PM

Representatives from Home Front Homes, a Florida-based manufacturer of energy-efficient, prefabricated houses, came to New Orleans this week to tour several possible sites for a new manufacturing facility they plan to build here.

"We feel that the incentive is correct for coming into the area and bringing some economic development there and also to help homeowners get into some nice, affordable homes," said Frank Morrissey, the company's general manager.

The plant, which Morrissey says would encompass about 40,000 square feet, would create 10 to 15 manufacturing jobs as well as several more in construction of the houses.

"New Orleans is one of the few cities where people are looking for housing," he said. "There's a huge demand, and we'd like to be part of that."

City Councilwoman Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson, who met with executives from Home Front Homes, said the company is committed to doing a quality job.

"I believe in affordable housing, but I also believe in it being done properly and not by slum lords," she said. "These people have quite a track record nationally, and it's going to open a whole new horizon because it's going to be decent, mixed housing."

The company's presence in New Orleans dates to 2005, when it was chosen to build the prototype "Katrina cottage" designed by the architect Andres Duany. The cottage is a small and sturdy house that was conceived by the Mississippi Renewal Forum as a solution to post-disaster housing, and a pilot program based on the design was recently approved for five Gulf Coast states.

In addition to producing its own building components, Clarkson said Home Front Homes plans to work with local contractors and conduct job training.

Even though Morrissey expects Home Front Homes will begin constructing the facility before the end of 2009, he said the company needs to take stock of demand in New Orleans before it commits to opening its plant here.

"There's an economic point where we have to have so many houses contracted for it before we can move into that area," he said. "It all depends on what can be sold out there."

The company has already started reaching out to potential buyers and currently has one house in the engineering stage.

"We need anywhere from 150 to 200 (contracts), and we're very confident that we can reach this number," Morrissey said.

The houses manufactured at the facility would range from 600 square feet to a few thousand square feet. The smallest ones would cost about $15,000, not including the door, windows, roof or appliances, Morrissey said.

Clarkson said the company is prepared to sell houses at a time when credit remains tight and first-time buyers might have difficulty obtaining a mortgage.

"They've already met with bankers, and those of us who have been in the financial side of this explained the hurdles involved in the cost of putting people into first-time housing," she said. "They're coming prepared to find options to make this work."
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Moving forward in developing Nolatown on New Orleans lakefront

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June 23, 2009
Lincoln Beach nears lease deal
By Richard A. Webster Staff writer

NEW ORLEANS — The development of Lincoln Beach is moving forward, but construction is not expected to begin for at least 18 months, said Sean Cummings, head of the New Orleans Building Corp.

The city and Nolatown Inc., the project’s primary developer, are expected to reach an agreement on the lease this month. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will then begin work on levee enhancements and the installation of a new floodgate.

The corps’ work is expected to take 18 months.

Construction can then begin on the $477 million project, which will include green space, an entertainment complex, gathering areas with cultural themes, recreation, commercial and hospitality areas, housing and residential facilities and support areas and a commuter train stop. Housing would include 400 condos and a 500-vehicle parking garage.

Ricky Spearman, president of Nolatown, said three project developers — Atlanta-based Nolatown; Covina, Calif.-based International Performance Packaging Co.; and Monrovia, Calif.-based Nardi Associates — have $500 million in financing pre-approved.

Lincoln Beach originally was built as an amusement park for blacks during segregation.

“Government procurement is intrinsically challenging, more time-consuming and more expensive than what happens in the private sector,” Cummings said.

“But in the scheme of things the project is moving at a deliberate speed and in a clear direction. It’s important to bring back to life this culturally important piece of real estate and this waterfront.”
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Consul general: Canada hopes to expand ties to La. energy industry

Posted by Allison Good
The Times-Picayune
June 23, 2009 5:18PM

Canada hopes to strengthen its ties with Louisiana's energy industry and is working to extend its crude oil pipelines to refineries in this state, Consul General of Canada Norris Pettis said during a speech in New Orleans on Tuesday.

Crude petroleum and other energy commodities accounted for 16 percent of Louisiana's total exports to Canada and 14 percent of its imports from Canada in 2007, and the country is the largest source of all forms of energy for the United States.

The Canadian energy company PS Filter, which specializes in the design and fabrication of filtration and separation equipment, even opened operations in Louisiana in January 2007.

"We came here to build equipment because production costs in Canada were so expensive," said Marc Cumby, the engineering manager at PS Filter USA's Mandeville office. "Right now we're just finishing a job for the city of Calgary enabling it to expand its energy capabilities."

Louisiana, which is Canada's third-largest trading partner in the United States, also serves as an access point for the Canadian National Railway.

Eugene Schreiber, managing director of the World Trade Center of New Orleans, which sponsored Tuesday's talk, said the railway is a major user the Port of New Orleans.

"It carries lumber, paper, auto parts, food, and rubber all the way up to Canada," said David Scoggin, New Orleans Public Belt Railroad's manager of business development and marketing, about the railway's business with the port.

In fact, two-way trade between Louisiana and Canada generated $2.9 billion in 2007, which in turn supported 102,000 jobs statewide, according to Pettis.

"The relationship is very strong now, but it can always be stronger," said Pettis.

Pettis also said initiatives are under way to help New Orleans take advantage of Canada's green building technology.

"Canada is one of the world's leading manufacturers of panelized housing, which we ship around the world," said Laura Aune, the consulate's trade commissioner. "The government of Canada has helped facilitate the design of an affordable, sustainable house prototype for the Gulf Coast South, specifically with New Orleans in mind, in a joint collaboration between a New Orleans architect and an expert in panelized manufacturing in Ontario."

The panels can be shipped economically by the Canadian National Railway to the Port of New Orleans, she added.

Schreiber sees this as an opportunity for a unique partnership.

"Canada has great home-building products, and we would like to see them invest in the rebuilding area," he said. "The opportunities are endless."
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