The day after the LITE Commission issued a statement that Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira would step down from the top post as executive director and continue serving as its full-time chief scientist came word that the newly-hired director of business development, Dr. Albert Baker, is no longer associated with the center.

In a mid-October press release, LITE announced Baker’s position, but officials are not commenting on his departure, fueling speculation more changes may be in the offing. Before joining LITE, Baker worked in a similar capacity as a software architect at ABC Virtual Communications in West Des Moines, Iowa.

LITE confirmed in a Nov. 19 press release that Cruz-Neira will shift her focus back to research and working with students and faculty.

The commission contends she was initially recruited as chief scientist in 2006 and accepted the dual-role upon her arrival in Lafayette. As LITE and the responsibilities of each position have grown, the commission said, it became clear that the organization needed separate roles for chief scientist and a chief executive officer.

A national search for Cruz-Neira’s replacement will be conducted. In the meantime, Henry Florsheim, LITE’s chief operating officer, has been named interim CEO. Florsheim did not respond to an inquiry about whether he will seek the position on a permanent basis.

LAFAYETTE HOME PRICES DOWN SLIGHTLY

Lafayette Parish has yet to join the country’s residential real estate misery — and there’s reason to believe it won’t.

Through October, the average sale price of homes sold in Lafayette Parish was $199,444, according to the Realtor Association of Acadiana’s Multiple Listing Service. For the same period in 2007 it was $205,478. That’s a 2.94 percent decline.

“You will find that figure to be substantially stronger than is reported nationally or in most major markets,” says Van Eaton & Romero CEO Bill Bacqué. “One must remember that we are coming off of the three year post-Katrina boom years where the average sale price in Lafayette Parish rose from $161,907 at the end of 2004 to $205,618 at the end of 2007,” he continues. “That was a 27 percent increase in three years.”

Nationally, the average existing home sale price from January to September as compared to the same period a year ago is down 9 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Southern states are down 4.1 percent, the Northeast 5.4 percent, Midwest 7.9 percent and the West a whopping 18.5 percent.

FIGARO’S ‘TAKE AND BAKE’ PIZZA OPENS


Calling itself the nation’s largest chain in the “take and bake” or “we bake or you bake” pizza segment that includes about a dozen competitors, Figaro’s Pizza has opened its first Lafayette location.

Franchisee Kevin Hayes of Lafayette opened the restaurant in mid-November in the South College Shopping Center, saying the concept caters to the growing number of time-crunched Americans who are looking for convenient quality meals they can squeeze into their families’ busy schedules.

Figaro’s offers pickup or delivery of both baked and unbaked pizzas. A proprietary dough formula allows unbaked pizzas to be left unrefrigerated for several hours or refrigerated for up to 48 hours without compromising taste or quality. The menu also includes calzones, chicken wings, bread sticks and salads, with only limited outdoor seating available. 

Hayes hopes to open two additional stores in the Lafayette area.

Based in Salem, Ore., Figaro’s Italian Pizza Inc. was founded in 1981 and now has more than 100 stores across the country — with plans to open 15 to 20 new units a year for the next several years.

OIL LEASING SHOWS SIGNS OF SLOWING

The Louisiana Mineral Board’s November lease sale was less than spectacular last week, indicating that the hype surrounding the Haynesville Shale area may be quieting as the rest of the state battles to hold its ground. But Mineral Board Secretary Marjorie McKeithen says there’s a reasonable explanation. Statewide, 38 out of 100 nominated tracts received bids at the monthly meeting, which equates to inaction on 62 percent of the state’s nominated tracts.

While it might sound low, McKeithen says it’s on par with what the state was experiencing prior to the boom in north Louisiana, where the Haynesville Shale has turned next-door neighbors into millionaires. “It’s common practice in the oil and gas industry for exploration companies to nominate more tracts than they actually intend to bid on in order to camouflage their prospects in a competitive environment,” McKeithen says.

In all, the state Mineral Board collected roughly $3.5 million at the November sale, very little coming from offshore lease activity. There was only one successful tract, a 1,120-acre lease in Lafourche Parish that went to Maritech Timbalier Bay for $308,000. There were also 91 onshore leases awarded for a total of $2.7 million.

Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle says interest in leasing Louisiana mineral rights for energy production is still strong, though spending on leases in the Haynesville Shale natural gas area has slowed as companies prepare to develop what they’ve already leased.

The major Haynesville Shale buys occurred between June and October of this year, with each month accounting for all-time state highs ranging from about $35 million to $93 million. For the three years prior to that spike, the average individual lease sale was roughly $3 million — only 14 monthly lease sale collections out of 36 between June 2005 and May 2008 exceeded that amount.  — Jeremy Alford

Correction:  
Last month’s “Turk File: Jones Walker makes its move,” incorrectly stated that the merger between Jones Walker and Longman Russo would create the first regional law firm with a major presence in the Acadiana market. Regional firms like Liskow & Lewis and Gordon Arata also have a significant presence here.

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