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
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
Corporations spending in state elections; Kenny G and Hong Kong; states resist gay marriage and more national and international news for Thursday, October 23, 2014.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.
State education officials are preparing to release performance scores for public schools and public school districts.
Saints coach Sean Payton is starting a new week by emphasizing, repeatedly, the many good things he noticed during New Orleans' latest loss.
We will be offering our recommendations on the constitutional amendments tomorrow.
The justices did not comment in leaving in place lower court rulings that dismissed the lawsuits against BP and other companies involved in the worst U.S. offshore oil spill.
White registration is down by 7,700 voters while black registration has shot up by 7,100 voters.
Even though it had been rumored for months, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu finally pulled the trigger recently on a major campaign shakeup that moved control over to a few Big Easy insiders.
Louisiana's health department says it will seek law changes to stop billing sexual assault victims for exams and tests.
It wasn’t the historic slashes to higher ed funding or the ensuing tuition spikes that recently had LSU’s student body and faculty riled up in collective outrage.