MAZDA NOW PART OF VEGA LINEUP

Lafayette auto dealer Adrian Vega has added Mazda to his Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep franchises on Evangeline Thruway across from the airport. In mid-March, Vega received the required final approval from the Louisiana Motor Vehicle Commission to become Lafayette’s new Mazda dealer. He bought the franchise from Don Hargroder’s Courtesy Automotive Group.

“In my and Adrian’s estimation, Mazda has been kind of lost in the mix in this town and needs to be brought to the forefront. It’s such a fine vehicle,” says General Manager Mickey Comboy, who is also part owner of the dealership. Comboy says the brand will be heavily promoted, noting that Mazda’s reputation for affordability and reliability is backed by a three-year, 36,000 mile warranty, with five years or 60,000 miles on the powertrain. Additionally, interest-free financing is being offered right now on most Mazdas.

Vega’s acquisition of the Mazda dealership brings the franchise full circle for Hunter Trahan, who is now sales manager for the newly named Acadiana Mazda, having previously served as sales manager for Acadiana Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep.

In 1971, the Trahan family of downtown’s Lafayette Motors became one of the first 20 dealers in the country to secure the Mazda franchise. “It was a big hit back then. I was much younger, but from what I was told from my dad, the rotary engine was hot at the time and so were the small pickups,” Hunter says.

Lafayette Motors sold Mazda in April 2008 to Courtesy Automotive Group. “We were at a crossroads. My brother [Brandon] was getting out of the business, and I had to make a decision on what I was going to maintain. I was not going to be in the business alone, running two operations at two different locations,” Hunter recalls. At the time of the sale, the Mazda dealership was on Johnston Street, in the current location of Sterling Hyundai.

Lafayette Motors sold Chrysler and Jeep to Acadiana Dodge in late 2008, and Hunter went to work for Vega’s group. “It’s one thing to be able to sell for a franchise once, but to sell for a franchise twice in the same life. ... We’ve now got Chrysler, Jeep and Mazda at one location,” Hunter says. “For me it’s kind of like déjà vu.”

ANN TAYLOR SHUTTERS MALL OF ACADIANA STORE

On March 20, Ann Taylor pulled up stakes at the Mall of Acadiana. “We have a brand new retailer that is going to require at least 14,000 square feet of space, and we need the location,” says Brian Lutz, regional marketing specialist for CBL & Associates Properties, the mall’s owner. “In negotiating with Ann Taylor, instead of relocating, they decided to pull out.”

Lutz declined to name the new retailer. “They’re still going over the fine print, and the deal is not fully executed yet, so I cannot release the name,” he says.

The mall representative says he isn’t authorized to discuss the sales performance of the Ann Taylor store, which was housed in the Macy’s wing across from Banana Republic.

A message left at Ann Taylor’s corporate headquarters in New York was not immediately returned. It remains unclear whether the company will reopen the store at a new site in Lafayette.

Like most national retailers, Ann Taylor Stores Corp., which has an Ann Taylor LOFT on Camellia Boulevard in River Ranch, is experiencing a decline in sales. On March 12 the company reported that net sales for fiscal year 2009 were $1.8 billion, compared with net sales of $2.2 billion in 2008. Sales at Ann Taylor were $456.6 million in 2009, compared with $689.2 million in 2008. At LOFT, net sales were $939.9 million in 2009, versus $1.09 billion in 2008.

Comparable store sales for fiscal 2009 fell 17.8 percent, with a 30 percent decline at Ann Taylor and a 12.7 drop at LOFT. The company, which also has factory stores, last year opened nine LOFTs, one Ann Taylor Factory store and four LOFT Outlets. It closed 18 Ann Taylors, 24 LOFTs and converted 11 Ann Taylors to LOFT. The total store count at the end of the fiscal year was 907.

Lutz says the Mall of Acadiana is doing well, noting that it ranks among the top performers at CBL’s 88 malls. For that reason, CBL is reinvesting in the south Lafayette property. A major re-merchandising of the mall will be taking place over the next nine months, he says. Already, Baby Gap moved from the food court area to the old Kirkland’s spot in the Macy’s wing.

APPEALS COURT RULES AGAINST SCHOOL BOARD — AGAIN

In March the Lafayette Parish School Board suffered another legal setback at the hands of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal, which ruled that a Lafayette entrepreneur whose restaurant went out of business is not personally liable for sales taxes the business failed to pay to the school system.

In the case of Lafayette Parish School Board versus Reginald Simmons, et al, the appeals court reversed a lower court ruling awarding the board a $12,468 judgment against Simmons, whose company, AJS Investments LLC, operated the Original Italian Pie in Lafayette. The restaurant opened in October 2007, AJS Investments filed for bankruptcy in February 2008, and the restaurant closed in April 2008.

Court documents show the restaurant did not pay sales taxes to the school board during the time it was open. However, the Third Circuit ruled that the school board failed to meet the benchmarks for proving Simmons was personally responsible for the business’ tax liability: “Considering that taxing statutes are strictly construed against the taxing authority, we do not find, under the facts of this case, that the School Board met its burden of showing the taxes were collected and willfully not remitted. Therefore, the trial court’s judgment in favor of the School Board is reversed,” Judge Sylvia R. Cooks wrote in the ruling.

The loss is the most recent of three defeats for the school board at the appellate level this year. In February, the Third Circuit reversed a lower court ruling and ordered the board to return more than $443,000 in use taxes assessed to Scientific Drilling International Inc. for equipment stored in Lafayette Parish but not used in the parish. Scientific had paid the taxes under protest and appealed to the Third Circuit.

Also in February, the appeals court released a judgment upholding a lower court ruling finding that the board cannot sue an architectural firm for water intrusion problems at N.P. Moss Middle School. — Walter Pierce

Compiled and edited by Leslie Turk; e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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