Mayor Kip Holden used his annual State of the City address this week to sell his plans for several major capital improvement and public safety projects that would be paid for with proceeds of a $335.6 million bond issue. When Holden’s administration released the financial details of the plan following the mayor’s address on Wednesday afternoon, they indicated it would be paid for with a 25-year, ¼-cent sales tax increase in the city-parish. But on Thursday morning, a Metro Council agenda item request from the administration showed it also will ask voters to approve a property tax increase of 0.5 mills as part of the financing plan.
The Metro Council will consider sending the bond issue to voters at its meeting next week. If approved, it will appear on the May 2 ballot. The council also will consider next week a proposal from the St. George Fire Protection District for a 2-mill tax increase for property owners inside its boundaries to help pay for capital improvements.
Also this week, those behind the effort to incorporate a new city of St. George fired back at a report issued last year by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and Baton Rouge Area Foundation that said the new city, if incorporated, could face a budget deficit as large as $9 million at its outset, which likely would mean tax increases would be necessary. A report issued this week by St. George incorporation supporters says the proposed city’s draft budget still shows an annual surplus of $10 million to $15 million—meaning increased taxes for those inside the new city would not be necessary.
Here’s a rundown of some of the other top stories making headlines in Daily Report this week:
— A prominent group of local business leaders is headed to Cuba this week for a three-day visit to that nation’s capital. More than 30 Louisiana CEOs who are members of the state chapters of the Young Presidents’ Organization and World Presidents’ Organization will make the trip to Havana, as will their spouses. Among the local business leaders are Beau Box, Raising Cane’s CEO Todd Graves, The Advocate Publisher John Georges and Emprint Moran Printing CEO Courtney Westbrook.
— Gwen Hamilton, interim president and CEO of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, says she plans to conduct a financial review of the agency and create a business plan that will identify potential long-term financing sources to keep the agency afloat.
— A number of Baton Rouge area hospitals have approached the city-parish Department of Emergency Medical Services with a partnership proposal to help reduce the number of unnecessary and costly emergency room visits. The Metro Council is to introduce a pair of agenda items next week that would allow EMS to enter into service agreements with local hospitals.
— The reorganization of the Department of Public Works into six separate, specialized departments becomes effective on Thursday of next week, but a few hurdles first must be cleared before the change can be implemented. Because city-parish officials haven’t yet finalized how to split up the existing DPW budget nor hired directors to lead the six new departments, Mayor Kip Holden’s administration is asking the Metro Council to approve measures legally needed to keep the department running during the transition.
— Downtown will get a new police precinct, Mayor Kip Holden announced in his annual State of the City address to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge. Though the Baton Rouge Police Department currently has a substation on Third Street in the heart of downtown, it is staffed with just two officers and has limited hours. The new precinct, by contrast, will be staffed by several officers and will be open 24 hours a day.
— After several years of significant growth in Beau Box Commercial Real Estate’s residential portfolio, the company is rebranding and expanding that portion of the business as Audubon Real Estate Associates. The residential firm will be headquartered at Beau Box’s new offices at 5500 Bankers Ave.
— Nearly six months after it was announced, Business First Bank’s acquisition of American Gateway Bank has yet to be finalized. Officials with both banks—who had hoped to finalize the merger by the end of last year—attribute the delay to the complex regulatory approval process and say while six months may seem like a long time for the deal to be consummated, it’s not unusual.
— Renovations are underway on a space at 128 W. Chimes St. formerly home to a gelato shop in order to make way for Insomnia Cookies, a national late-night bakery chain with plans to open its first Louisiana location within the first quarter of this year. Bacio di Roma, a local gelato shop, previously occupied the space. The business closed its doors last month after operating since June 2011.
— The owner of Thai Kitchen, which since 1999 has been in the Southdowns Village Shopping Center on Perkins Road, has a purchase agreement on a vacant building at 4564 Bennington Ave. and plans to relocate his popular restaurant and sushi bar to the new site later this year. Sam Sanguanruang says he plans to spend $740,000 on the building and another $500,000 or so renovating the 5,600-square-foot space, which is slightly smaller than the space where the restaurant has been located for the last 16 years.
— Just weeks after Portico closed its restaurant in Southdowns Shopping Center on Perkins Road, a new restaurant with a farm-to-table concept was announced as its replacement this week. Table Kitchen and Bar has signed a lease to move into the roughly 3,500-square-foot space at 4205 Perkins Road and hopes to be open as early as March.
—A few more details on the Crispy Catch seafood restaurant under development in the former Kean’s Fine Dry Cleaning building near the Perkins Road overpass trickled out this week from the owners, who until now have remained tight-lipped about the highly anticipated eatery. Though a specific opening date has not been announced,the owners say the restaurant will be open this spring and will feature indoor and patio seating, as well as a separate check-out area for take-out orders.
— Metairie-based investors Nitin and Aparna Kamath, who manage Aztek Holdings LLC, purchased a 4,200-square-foot office building on a 0.75-acre lot off of Bluebonnet Boulevard for $726,150.
— Kimble Development is in the process of bringing a shopping center to a vacant corner of the heavily trafficked intersection of Hoo Shoo Too Road and Jefferson Highway, with construction set to begin in February. Developers filed an application for the project with the City Parish Planning Commission this week, with the commission to take up the request at its Feb. 23 meeting.
— Bardwell Homes, which has been developing and building neighborhoods in Baton Rouge since the late 1940s, is set to begin its first project in Central on land purchased this week at The Village at Magnolia Square development. The firm closed on more than 12 acres in the traditional neighborhood development for $1,077,800, with plans to develop the first of two filings in a new residential section of the TND called the Highland District.
— Speaking to the Press Club of Baton Rouge this week, longtime Angola Prison Warden Burl Cain left the door open for a run at the governor’s office later this year.