Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Written by Nathan Stubbs
Van Eaton & Romero hopes its new location-based website will help usher in the future of real estate shopping.
It’s the old mantra in the real estate business: location, location, location. At Van Eaton & Romero, the old adage is getting a 21st century re-application, as Acadiana’s largest independent real estate firm prepares to launch a new location-based website to help revolutionize the way people shop for new homes.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Compiled and edited by Leslie Turk
Until July 12 it was easier to sell a gun in Louisiana than a floral arrangement.
That’s the day Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law HB 1407, proving Louisiana is indeed capable of undoing an illegal arrangement — even if it takes us seven decades.
The Institute for Justice, which teamed up with four Louisiana florists in early March to file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s florist licensing law, says HB 1407 means Louisiana florists will no longer find themselves fenced out of the industry by an “arbitrary, subjective and antiquated licensing exam in which their own future competitors decide whether they are ‘good enough’ to sell floral arrangements.” The law, by any measure, was an anti-competitive, anti-consumer scheme, Chauvin v. Strain accurately pointed out. We’re talking flowers here, people.
HB 1407, sponsored by Rep. Franklin Foil, abolishes the demonstration portion of the floral licensing exam, while leaving in place, for now, the IJ points out, a short written exam that presents no serious obstacle to would-be florists. The bill flew through both houses of the Louisiana Legislature. Before the new law, Louisiana required would-be florists to pass both a written test and a highly subjective demonstration examination, in which they were given four hours to create four floral arrangements that were then judged by a panel of state-licensed florists — in essence, their future competitors. The written test presents a relatively minor government hoop that people must jump through before they may sell floral arrangements in Louisiana, according to the IJ.
Louisiana is the only state in the union that requires a state license for florists, but undoing it hasn’t been easy. The law was challenged in the Legislature unsuccessfully in 2004 and again in 2007; after the law was softened somewhat two years ago, the pass rate jumped from around 60 percent to 77 percent. When Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain was unable to change the statute to eliminate the design test in 2008, he implemented a regulatory system that put more of the grade weight, half, on the written exam. That’s when the success rate moved to 77 percent.
“HB 1407 gives aspiring florists and entrepreneurs more freedom to pursue their chosen occupation free from blatantly anti-competitive government interference,” says Tim Keller, the IJ’s lead counsel in Chauvin v. Strain. “In light of this new law, and the fact that three of our clients have taken and passed the state’s written examination, we will declare victory and move to voluntarily dismiss our case.”
“Arranging and selling flowers is a completely harmless occupation,” adds Keller. “Therefore, the Institute for Justice will continue to monitor the state’s written exam to ensure that it remains an insubstantial barrier for would-be florists. If necessary, we are certainly prepared to file a new lawsuit in order to finish the job that HB 1407 started by eliminating the practical exam, which has always been the real root of the problem here in Louisiana.”
“There is no need for the government to test or license would-be florists,” Keller adds. “The only purpose served by the written exam is to raise funds for the state through licensing fees while setting up unnecessary — but in this case fairly trivial — barriers to entrepreneurship. The Legislature should take the next step and eliminate the written examination.”
IJ took the case pro-bono. Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based law firm represents individuals in courtrooms across the country who successfully defend their free speech rights and ability to earn an honest living in the occupations of their choice. It is a public interest, non-profit law firm that advocates in both the court of law and in the court of public opinion. — Leslie Turk
Fiber build-out nearing completion
LUS’ fiber network should reach every resident within the city limits by mid-August, with 98 percent of the fiber build-out completed by the end of July, according to LUS Director Terry Huval. LUS originally scheduled to have the citywide network completed in early 2011. Earlier this year, it moved up its projected finish date to July 2010.
In other LUS Fiber news, the telecommunications business once again cut its anticipated revenue for the year in a midyear budget revision approved by the council July 6. LUS reduced its annual revenue projection from $23 million to $11 million, took out another loan from its utilities business, and cut adjusted operating expenses from $19 million to $12 million. LUS made similar moves in budget revisions last year to compensate for a delayed launch in the fiber business.
Huval told the council that the nascent business is meeting its projected break-even target of 23 percent market penetration. Huval added that revenues may have been more in line with projections had the city launched a more aggressive marketing campaign, according to The Advocate, but that a decision was made to wait until the service was available to more residents in order to seek greater impact from its advertising buys. — Nathan Stubbs
Made from petrol
The impact of a slowdown — more accurately a screeching halt — in deepwater Gulf oil production will have widespread ramifications for our economy, and it’s not just pain at the pump we’re likely to feel. One 42-gallon barrel of oil creates 19.4 gallons of gasoline; the rest (over half) is used to make more than 6,000 known products. According to Ranken Energy Corp., those everyday items include:
Sports Car Bodies
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Compiled and Edited by Leslie Turk
WALK-ON’S OPENING ON KALISTE SALOOM ROAD
Baton Rouge-based Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar, a concept founded by two former LSU basketball players (both walk-ons, of course), is opening a 9,500-square-foot restaurant and bar on Kaliste Saloom Road next to Randol’s. The new location will be the eighth restaurant for Brandon Landry and Jack Warner, who met in 1997 on the hardwood of LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center...
Snap 103.7’s classic rock enters market
You can now tune your dial to 103.7 FM for classic hits with an emphasis on classic rock on Delta Media’s new “Snap 103.7.”
The locally owned media group has been tweaking and testing the format at its sister station, Snap 87.7 FM, for more than a year and will simulcast the stations for a short period beginning next week, says broadcast veteran Sean Trcalek, who has just joined Delta Media as director of development.
“This is a brand new license for the market,” says Trcalek, explaining that the new station is actually 103.7 KLWB but will be marketed as Snap 103.7. Expect a lot of Motown hits and soul music from the late 1960s up to 1990, he says. “We’re not going to play stuff from the ’50s.”
Trcalek says 87.7 FM’s new format has yet to be determined.
Snap 103.7’s key demo is 35-64 year olds, likely attracting slightly more male than female listeners. “There hasn’t been a station in the [Lafayette] market playing classic rock in a long time,” says Trcalek, noting that Snap 103.7’s closest competitor in terms of format will be Crowley-based KYBG, Big 102.1.
There’s neither sugar nor oil at this Refinery
Men. Only. Refinery, a barberspa that opened in downtown Lafayette May 10, is destined to become a refuge for men who crave a little private pampering. Owner Renee Ezell, a licensed cosmetologist, is proud of her new degree. “I just became a licensed barber,” she laughs.
Renee is the sister-in-law of Tsunami Sushi owner Michele Ezell, and Refinery will open on the Buchanan Street side of the old Abdalla building that houses Tsunami. The adaptive reuse of the old building plays up the rustic brick walls and concrete floors, polished to a high shine. Renee will offer hair cuts and beard trims, warm shaves, facials, manicures and pedicures, and massages. Refinery is only part of the continued development of the building. On the ground floor, one commercial suite is also being rehabbed, and upstairs, approximately half a dozen apartments are being readied for residential occupancy.
Renee says there has been significant interest already. “Lots of guys have already asked about facials.” An added attraction: There’s a secret door that opens into Tsunami, prime access for a sushi snack for men making a spa day of it. — Mary Tutwiler
CC’s Coffee House closes Kaliste Saloom store
After more than a decade, CC’s Coffee House has shuttered its Kaliste Saloom Road location in the Centre Park shopping center, which is anchored by Marcello’s Wine Market Café.
“The lease isn’t up till June 1, but they went ahead and gave me notice they were closing [Friday, April 30 ],” says Tex Plumley, who owns the center. “They probably called me last Wednesday or Thursday,” says Plumley. While the abrupt departure did surprise him, Plumley acknowledges that he’d been in talks with the coffee house chain because he’d known for some time CC’s preference is locations with a drive-thru, which his site does not offer. “They said that Starbucks was killing them, right there between Cane’s and [Chase] bank, on Pinhook and Kaliste,” Plumley notes.
Rachel Hull, a spokeswoman for CC’s, wouldn’t comment on competition from Starbucks down the street but did acknowledge that the Centre Park model is outdated for today’s lifestyle. “I think our customers are looking for convenience,” she says.
Celton Hayden, CC’s general manager of retail operations, says the company does not have definitive plans for a new location in the general area of the Kaliste Saloom store but isn’t ruling out the possibility. The Kaliste Saloom location’s nine employees were all offered jobs at one of CC’s seven Lafayette coffee shops, according to Hayden. He would not discuss how many employees have stayed on with the company, and CC’s officials also declined to comment on recent speculation of a management shakeup at local stores.
“We’re not going to discuss personnel matters publicly,” says Public Relations Manager Catherine Heitman. “At Community Coffee, all employment matters are confidential and are not discussed outside of the company. Therefore, out of respect for the privacy of our current and past employees, we cannot comment on your questions regarding our employees.”
Plumley maintains that the Kaliste Saloom spot is a good location for a coffee house. “I was surprised because they seemed to have a big crowd. It’s kind of strange to go by there now and see an empty parking lot at a quarter to eight in the morning. It used to be full.” Plumley says because of the short notice he hasn’t had time to market the 2,000-square-foot space. And while it’s considered a prime location, he’s not expecting anyone to be beating his door down. “I think this oil spill is driving people nuts,” he says. Plumley anticipates that the anxiety over what the spill will mean for the future of the oil industry may have some potential tenants in a wait-and-see posture.
In early 2009, CC’s Coffee House closed its location at 3810 Ambassador Caffery Parkway, next to Imelda’s. That store, which had been open for 11 years, also did not have a drive-thru. CC’s last three stores in Lafayette all offer that added convenience — Johnston Street near Albertsons, Camellia Boulevard in River Ranch and Congress at Ambassador Caffery Parkway. The latter store opened in December, a clear sign the company believes in the strength of the Lafayette market and is continuing to invest here, notes Heitman.
SEC AWARE OF STANFORD PONZI SCHEME SINCE 1997
The Robert Allen Stanford alleged Ponzi scheme and its impact on middle class investors still isn’t getting the media attention it deserves. On April 16, a blistering report on the abysmal failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission was buried by the Goldman Sachs fraud charges; both were released the same day. In the Stanford matter, the inspector general for the SEC issued a detailed 159-page report, dated March 31, concluding that the agency’s Fort Worth office knew the Texas businessman was operating a Ponzi scheme in 1997.
The Stanford Victims Coalition, a group that represents former Stanford investors, was quick to accuse the agency of trying to “minimize the revelation of the truth.”
“It appears that the real story today is that the SEC decided to release the report on the same day they sued Goldman Sachs,” says Stanford investor Troy Lillie of Maurice, a member of the Stanford Victims Coalition and the Louisiana Stanford Victims Group. “[It’s] obvious they are trying to downplay the negative [Stanford IG report] and playing up the positive for them [Goldman Sachs].”
The in-depth IG’s report was requested by Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter. “There were four examinations in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2004, and in each case examiners concluded that Stanford’s CDs were likely a Ponzi scheme. Yet the SEC did absolutely nothing while Stanford fleeced investors for roughly $8 billion,” says Vitter, who at press time was preparing to meet with Inspector General David Kotz, who authored the report. “What is clear from the report is that the debt the SEC owes the Stanford victims is enormous.”
Among the most damning findings was the warning issued by a retiring assistant district administrator for the Fort Worth examination program in 1997 to the branch chief: “Keep an eye on these people [Stanford] because it looks like a Ponzi scheme to me, and some day it’s going to blow up.”
It was not the examiners, but rather the enforcement division, that dropped the ball. Fort Worth examiners repeatedly conducted examinations of Stanford in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2004, concluding each time that Stanford’s CDs were likely a Ponzi scheme. “The only significant difference in the Examination group’s findings over the years was that the potential fraud grew exponentially, from $250 million to $1.5 billion,” according to the report. However, “no meaningful effort was made by Enforcement to investigate the potential fraud or to bring an action to attempt to stop it until late 2005.”
The report also noted that the former head of the SEC’s enforcement office in Fort Worth impeded investigations into Stanford’s operations for years. Spencer Barasch repeatedly decided “to quash the matter,” the report reads. Later, when the SEC began investigating, “Barasch repeatedly attempted to represent Stanford in connection with the investigation he had blocked for seven years.” Barasch is now a partner at the law firm Andrews Kurth LLP. Andrews Kurth managing partner Bob Jewell said Barasch did not violate any ethics laws and will remain with the firm, Dow Jones reported. However, because Barasch’s representation of Stanford appears to have violated state bar rules that prohibit a former government employee from working on matters in which he participated as a government employee, Kotz referred the findings of his investigation to the SEC’s ethics counsel for referral to the bar counsel offices in the two states Barasch is admitted to practice law.
Additionally, the IG noted that SEC enforcement officials also ignored a number of warnings from insiders at Stanford’s operations. The report notes that a letter was forwarded to the SEC in October 2003 by the National Association of Securities Dealers warning that Stanford’s businesses “WILL DESTROY THE LIFE SAVINGS OF MANY.”
After the initial red flags, it would be another eight years, 2005, before a serious effort to expose the alleged fraud was launched. And another several years before the SEC stopped it. In February 2009 the SEC shut down Stanford’s operations and charged the company with running a an $8 billion Ponzi scheme.
It is estimated that about $1 billion was invested in the CDs in Louisiana. The flamboyant Texas billionaire remains in jail facing multiple fraud charges related to the company’s selling of CDs that promised interest rates substantially above those offered by legitimate banks.
In the conclusion of the report, the IG noted:
“We found that senior Fort Worth officials perceived that they were being judged on the numbers of cases they brought, so-called ‘stats,’ and communicated to the Enforcement staff that novel or complex cases were disfavored. As a result, cases like Stanford, which were not considered ‘quick-hit’ or ‘slam-dunk’ cases, were not encouraged. ... The OIG’s findings during this investigation raise significant concerns about how decisions were made within the SEC’s Division of Enforcement with regard to the Stanford matter.”
Access the IG’s full report at www.sec.gov/news/studies/2010/oig-526.pdf.
SAINTS’ SHANLE SHILLING FOR COURTESY CADILLAC
New Orleans Saints linebacker Scott Shanle has signed on as the spokesman for Courtesy Automotive Group’s Cadillac dealership, which recently relocated from Johnston Street to Ambassador Caffery Parkway. Courtesy Automotive Group owner Don Hargroder purchased Schoeffler Cadillac early last year.
One of the Saints’ leading tacklers for the past two years, Shanle was an integral part of the Saints’ Super Bowl victory. On Saturday, April 17, the standout linebacker was at the dealership, located between Academy and the Mall of Acadiana, signing autographs.
The Cadillac dealership is on the site that originally housed Saturn of Lafayette and most recently housed Courtesy Mazda. Last month Acadiana Business reported Courtesy’s sale of Mazda to Adrian Vega; that dealership is now Acadiana Mazda.
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