A PRESIDENTIAL INVITATION
St. Bernard Parish resident Rockey Vaccarella is extending a unique dinner invitation to President George W. Bush. On Friday, Aug. 18, Vaccarella plans on leaving Chalmette and towing his "honorary FEMA trailer" to Washington, D.C., where he hopes to share a meal with the president inside the camper. Vaccarella survived Katrina after spending four hours on his roof and says he wants to thank the president and Americans for the work they have done and to remind everyone that more help is needed. Filmmaker Steven Scaffidi will be documenting Vaccarella's mission to have dinner with the president.
Vaccarella will tow his camper through New Orleans, Bay St. Louis, Mobile, Montgomery, Atlanta, Columbia, Raleigh and Richmond. In addition to his dinner invitation, Vaccarella will also tell the President "about an amazing idea to bring 1 million people to South Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region to help in the recovery effort." ' R. Reese Fuller
OYSTER PRODUCTION AT 16-YEAR LOW
A serious shortage of Louisiana's famous Gulf oysters has been evident to most restaurant patrons in south Louisiana for months, but now the state has released a study that matches up suspicion with hard numbers. Last year's storms damaged boats, docks and other infrastructure, and displaced hundreds of workers. Even the annual stock assessment of public oyster areas, recently conducted by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, was challenging. "This was especially difficult due to the hurricanes," says Patrick Banks, a department biologist. "We were operating in many instances without a coastal office and in reduced vessels."
The state surveyed its 1.65 million acres, and the summary was as bad as expected ' the public ground oyster resource is at its lowest point since 1990. The forecast for 2006 is 2.1 million barrels, down from previous years' average of approximately 2.1 million. Sack oysters ' the primo pearls you might get in a po-boy or at a shucking bar ' account for the sharp decline. The availability of these consumer favorites is down approximately 70 percent from last year. ' Jeremy Alford
PIZZA, ENTERTAINMENT COMING TO OLD ACADEMY SITE
Academy's Johnston Street departure has paved the way for Tulsa-based America's Incredible Pizza Co., a family entertainment venue that's investing about $4 million in its first Louisiana store. Danny Mullen and Robin French, managing partners of Houston-based FEC Holdings, the franchisee for America's Incredible Pizza, are leasing 48,000 square feet of the Grand MarchÃ© shopping center and will begin construction in November.
The concept is an all-you-can-eat buffet-style pizza bar with a daily selection of 15 to 20 pizzas, a 100-item salad bar, along with baked potatoes, ice-cream and desserts like cobbler, all served in a choice of four '50s-themed dining areas ' a sporty gymnasium, a starlit drive-in theater playing old movies, a diner, and a quiet family room. "The food is a surprisingly good value and surprisingly good," Mullen says. "We're a restaurant first and family entertainment center that goes along with it, strictly G-rated."
On the fun side of the business is an indoor go-cart track, bumper cars, mini-golf and 100 video and arcade games. Mullen says the location, which will employ 180 to 200 people, offers a variety of family packages and senior citizen discounts. "We can seat up to 200 at a birthday party," he says.
Mullen and French helped develop the concept and have three stores, two in Houston and one in Oklahoma City, and will open three more in the next 120 days, in Lafayette, Pasadena and Euless, Texas (the Dallas/Fort Worth area). They are aggressively expanding and considering more Southern sites as close as Baton Rouge, Shreveport and Jackson, Miss. "We really want to get into that market big," Mullen says.
The partners scouted several vacant big box sites in Lafayette before the storms but favored the former Academy from the outset.
The Academy building and space next to it total 95,000 square feet, so another 47,000 is available for lease, according to Charles Cornay and Jeff Landry of Stirling Properties, listing agents for the Miami partnership that owns the shopping center. The duo also hopes the addition of the pizza center will help secure a tenant for the adjacent 21,750-square-foot building, formerly occupied by grocery stores Adrien's and Piggly Wiggly. ' Leslie Turk
LIVINGSTON EXPANDING REACH INTO STATE CAPITOL
After years of being on top of the Beltway lobbying game, former Louisiana Congressman Bob Livingston, a Republican who now splits his time between Virginia and New Orleans, is expanding operations into state government. The Livingston Group has formed a strategic alliance with Impact Management Group, which has public affairs offices in Little Rock and Baton Rouge. Jason Hebert, former executive director of the Louisiana Republican Party and IMG partner, has been tapped to spearhead the move as the state reaches a pinnacle in recovery money.
"Often, federal issues are being influenced more at the state and local level than inside the beltway," Livingston says. "It just made sense for us to reach out and be a part of that communication process." The expansion is centered around lobbying the state Legislature, forming policy strategy, developing public-private partnerships and other roles. Formerly chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Livingston was also speaker of the House until he stepped down in 1998 after admitting his own marital infidelities. Livingston's firm now represents more than 80 domestic and foreign clients. ' JA
COSTA RICA CONSULATE PLANNING EXIT
After operating in New Orleans for more than 100 years, government officials in Costa Rica are considering closing the Louisiana consulate office. If Costa Rican President Oscar Arias decides to jump ship, it could impact some big numbers ' Louisiana exports to the country totaled $252 million last year.
In hopes of heading off the shuttering of one of the oldest consulates in the nation, Louisiana's congressional delegation sent a letter to Arias. "We believe that the closing of the consulate in New Orleans would be a serious detriment to the expanding range of trade, transportation, tourism, educational, cultural, and other important ties that have developed between Costa Rica and Louisiana over many years," the letter states.
Although the office is in New Orleans, the withdrawal could be felt all over south Louisiana. There are five deepwater ports along the lower Mississippi River that offer a strategic waterway to and from more than 30 states for trade in both directions between Costa Rica and the United States. ' JA
NEW ORLEANS HOTELS OPENING UP FOR TEACHERS
The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau brokered a special deal for teachers applying for K-12 teaching positions in the devastated region: free room and board. In conjunction with the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the CVB is offering free hotel vouchers during the interview process. "This extra bit of assistance will only make it easier for them to become a permanent part of our community," says Dr. Norman Francis, president of Xavier University and LRA chairman. The Recovery School District needs up to 400 teachers for 17 schools. Additionally, more than 50 new teachers are needed by the 35 charter schools in New Orleans. ' JA
Black Friday shopping begins; Pope visiting Turkey; oil prices decline and more national and international news for Friday, November 28, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.