By Bruce Alpert, NOLA.com/Times-Picayune
WASHINGTON – By now, you’ve probably heard the news that failure by PresidentBarack Obama and Congress to reach a deal on the so-called fiscal cliff means higher taxes and spending cuts in both defense and domestic programs starting January 1. This week, various think tanks and advocacy groups are discussing some of the other potential effects on Louisiana.
One analysis by George Mason University economists predicted that the cumulative impact of no budget deal would cost Louisiana 28,000 jobs. For starters, according to the Pew Center on the States, a failure to reach a deal would cut 6.6 percent of all federal grants to Louisiana on an annual basis.
Since much of that money has already been budgeted, it will like result in even more cuts by the state of Louisiana. Already, Gov. Bobby Jindal has implemented large cuts in health care services in response to a large reduction in federal Medicaid funds implemented last summer at the insistence of House Republicans.
“The longer Washington takes to avert the damaging consequences of sequestration and tax increases, the more communities across Louisiana must prepare for the worst,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and head of the Campaign to Fix the Debt. “If the arbitrary combination of ill-thought out spending cuts and tax hikes take effect, it’ll be another economic setback for small businesses and families in Louisiana.”
- Since Louisiana allows state taxpayers to deduct their federal taxes from state returns, higher federal taxes that would take effect on January 1 for all Americans, if no deal is reached, would mean less revenue for the state.
- If no deal is reached, the Bush income tax rate reductions be rolled back for all Americans, not just for those with incomes under $250,000.
- Expanded child tax credits and earned income tax credits for low income working families enacted over the last decade would expire, if no deal is reached. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that a single mom with two kids working full time at the minimum wage would see her child tax credit drop from $1,725 to $173 if the expanded benefits aren’t extended.
Though President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner have significantly narrowed their differences, there’s still no accord. At issue is what the cutoff point should be for people to continue to benefit from the George W. Bush cuts in income tax rates. Obama started out saying the rates should rise to Clinton-era levels for families once incomes exceed $250,000. Since then, he agreed to raise that threshold to $400,000 and recently suggested he could go as high as $700,000.
Boehner has said he’d only accept rate increases for families with income over $1 million and complained that the president hasn’t yet agreed to enough cuts in federal spending.
On Thursday, Rep. John Fleming, R-Minden, said he opposes any increases in taxes, regardless of income, on grounds it would, in his view, hurt job growth. Others point to robust job growth during the Clinton years as evidence that the higher rates favored by the president for high income earners wouldn’t hurt the economy.
For a full list of media coverage on this topic, click here.
By Robin Shannon, New Orleans CityBusiness
The Civic, oldest known theater building in New Orleans, has sat hidden and forgotten among a cluster of high rise towers within the Central Business District for more than 30 years. But developers are hoping that by year’s end, the 106-year-old performance venue can be put back into commerce.
A meticulous nine-month, $10.5 million renovation project is now in the home stretch. Gibbs Construction is the general contractor for the project.
“We are definitely looking to fill a void in the city’s live entertainment scene,” said Stephen Fink, a partner with The Solomon Group. “Seating can fluctuate between 750 and 1,100, giving us the opportunity to accommodate shows that are too small for a Saenger or Mahalia Jackson theater, which hold more than 2,000 people, or too big for something that would have been at Le Petit or Le Chat Noir.”
In addition, Fink said the renovated Civic will also feature an adaptable modular flooring system that will allow for transformation from theater-style seating to a modern concert format or corporate conference setting in only a matter of minutes.
“The theater isn’t big enough to live off a traveling show, and it also is not situated near the other known theaters so we had to be creative with our business plan,” Fink said. “This allows us to be flexible. We will have the ability to hold a corporate event by day and a concert at night.”
Gibbs, who has owned the property since 2001 along with the loft apartments that flank both sides, said the project got a huge boost from multiple state and federal tax credits. The most crucial among them was the state’s Live Infrastructure Tax Credit, meant to help re-establish performance venues. The program provides 25 percent of the cost of the project in fully refundable tax credits, he said.
“When I bought the property in 2001, the value of the theatre was at zero,” Gibbs said. “I didn’t know what to do with it or how to go about doing something with it. The tax credits made it feasible because now we had a goal.”
Although the building’s structure was solid and completely fireproof, renovation came with its share of challenges, Gibbs said. The building needed a brand new roof and ventilation system, and the basement had to be drained of about 4 feet of water. The stage was rotten in some areas, and the balconies needed to be rebuilt with larger seating.
Gibbs said much of the plasterwork on the balcony façades was intact and just needed some minor restoration. Construction crews also had to work to expand restroom space, sacrificing seating on the bottom level.
Additional seating was eliminated for the installation of bars on each theater level. Fink said the partners are working with Neil Bodenheimer of the cocktail lounge Cure to develop the menu and service plan.
“We are looking at something simple, but we want to ensure that it is pleasing to the crowds we are catering to,” Fink said.
Another challenge came with designing the entrance. Architect Jack Sawyer with Eskew+Dumez+Ripple said in past incarnations, the main theatre entrance was on Baronne Street, where patrons would pass through an open-air arcade into the lobby. The old Civic marquee still remains, but the traditional entrance is no longer viable because of the condominiums that now occupy the buildings on either side. Theatergoers will now enter from the side through an alley off O’Keefe Street, where a new marquee was recently installed.
Although renovations are nearly complete, the owners have intentionally shied away from booking the theatre for events until it is ready to host them.
“People are tired of hearing about what people are going to do, and we did not want to be that way,” Fink said. “We wanted to come out and be real. We wanted to have the space ready and know it is ready before laying out a schedule of events.”
By Stacey Plaisance, Associated Press
The Dalai Lama and an entourage of Tibetan monks are heading to New Orleans in May in a rally of support for communities still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
For more than a decade, Ronald Marks, dean of Tulane University‘s School of Social Work, which is sponsoring the Dalai Lama’s trip, has been conducting a graduate social work class in north India. Students work with the Tibetan refugee population and with the Louisiana Himalaya Association, a local social service organization that provides services to Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala and in surrounding villages throughout north India.
“I firmly believe that whereas we have much to offer the Tibetan exile community, we also have much to learn from it,” Marks said during a news conference Monday on Tulane’s campus where a centuries-old oak tree was draped with colorful Buddhist prayer flags.
The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader plans to speak at Tulane’s commencement ceremony on May 18 in the Superdome, where he will be presented with an honorary degree.
The 77-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner makes annual trips to the U.S. in October and May. His visit to New Orleans has been more than a year in the planning.
During the visit, monks will create an elaborate sand mandala — a circular symbolic design — at the Morial Convention Center and perform multiphonic chanting, known as zokkay. They will lead a procession to the Mississippi River and disperse the mandala’s sand into the river.
“His visit will be so uplifting for New Orleans,” said Kristina Rigterink, a 24-year-old Tulane graduate student pursuing her master’s degree in social work. “His presence is contagious, and his message of resilience and strength I believe will be felt for a long time.”
The Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his nonviolent struggle in protest of Chinese rule of Tibet, has long been a critic of the Iraq War. In Iraq, violence caused by insurgents remains a problem following the U.S. withdrawal of troops in December. He will bring that message of nonviolence to New Orleans, a city plagued by high murder rates.
“His Holiness brings with him a message of compassion,” said Ngawang Legshe, a former Tibetan monk who has been teaching at Tulane since 2006.
Last month the Dalai Lama talked about violence, ethics, education, values, compassion and peace in U.S. college communities in the New England area about two weeks before the Atlantic Coast was devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
He also spent three days in Massachusetts, the site of The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values, a nonprofit think tank at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass. He also attended a concert in Boston that featured a performance by Grammy-winning singer-songwriter James Taylor.
Revenue generated from ticket sales for his New Orleans appearances will be used to underwrite the visit. Any remaining funds will be donated to a nonprofit organization.
Religious groups have played a significant part in the rebuilding of the New Orleans area and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, mostly through volunteers from church-sponsored organizations of a wide variety of denominations who flocked to the region after Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005. The storm killed an estimated 1,800 people in Louisiana and Mississippi and unleashed a flood that swamped 80 percent of New Orleans.
Dalai Lama-New Orleans, http://www.dalailamaNOLA.com
By Doug MacCash, Times-Picayune
Work has begun on what will be the world’s biggest mural made primarily from recycled Mardi Gras beads. Artist Stephan Wanger, known for his glittering, ecologically conscious bead art, is leading the project with cooperation from Arc of Greater New Orleans and St. Michaels Special School, organizations that annually recycle tons of Carnival throws (watch a video about Arc’s parade-following “catch and release” bead recycling trailer below). Wanger hopes to complete the mural by Mardi Gras 2013 with the help of school children from across the city. The mural, which will be 42 ft. wide by eight ft. high, will depict the Crescent City skyline. It is meant to break Wanger’s own Guinness World Record for largest beaded mural, his “Sanctuary of Alegria – Home of Happiness,” a 30-ft-wide New Orleans landscape completed in Jan. 2012.
“A lot of the work in my studio introduces local school children to art,” Wanger is quoted as saying in the project press announcement, “and I wanted to do another project to include even more children and to invite the entire city of New Orleans, my adopted home town, to help me top my last world record.” Wanger was born in Germany.
Read Renee Peck’s story about Wanger “Helping the world with Mardi Gras bead mosaics.”
The plastic mosaic is being assembled at Mardi Gras World (East bank), 1380 Port of New Orleans. To complete the project by Mardi Gras 2013, Wanger needs bead-gluing volunteers and lots of beads. Beginning Sun. (Nov. 17), volunteers are welcome from 10 a.m. to 5, Fridays through Mondays. Beads can also be donated at Mardi Gras World.
- Blue Angels at NOLA Navy Week for Brief Special Events/Observances‐ Nonprofit/ Association
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- Solomon Group Feature for Print Feature Story
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By Donna Fenn, OPEN Forum
When Gary Solomon Jr. moved back to his native New Orleans in 2008, the NYU grad wasn’t at all sure there was a career path for him in his hometown. Fast forward four years and his production company, Solomon Group, is preparing for one its largest projects to date: designing, fabricating and installing CBS’s sets for its week-long coverage of Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. “We pitched against the largest television and sports design firm in the world and we got the job,” says 26-year-old Solomon. So how does a scrappy startup with just three years of experience under its belt compete with and beat the big guys?
Timing is Everything
Solomon, who studied theater and technical production, says that when he first returned to New Orleans, the city was still in a post-Katrina haze. So he initially went to work for an existing production company, joining two friends whose technical expertise complemented his creative skills. But as rebuilding picked up steam and entrepreneurial activity increased in New Orleans, the three became restless and struck out on their own.
“We wanted to provide production services to the live event market,” recalls Solomon. “But we didn’t own our own gear and we didn’t have a staff, so we ended up being middlemen between service providers and clients. There wasn’t a big value proposition.” Still, it gave Solomon and his partners, Steve Fink and Jonathan Foucheaux, exposure to the marketplace and the experience they needed to move to the next level.
Leveraging Early Success
In early 2009, Solomon Group landed a job that opened its founders’ eyes. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans hired the company to re-create Stage Door Canteen, an actual New York entertainment venue that entertained soldiers before they headed off to war. The permanent installation included a live show and a documentary film, and Solomon Group not only marshaled the resources to create it, but integrated all of the A/V, automation and control systems so that museum personnel could operate it with the flip of a switch. “It exposed us to the museum market,” says Solomon. “And we realized we could make money on permanent installations.” The partners also realized that they had a clear market advantage. Most other productions companies specialized in either cutting edge technology or the creative side of the business. With its three partners, Solomon Group had all bases covered.
The Next Level
In 2010, Solomon continued to land more business, but the company was still playing the middleman role, without the staff or resources to pull off big projects on its own. But that would change soon enough. After completing a $3.5 million technology and lighting project for an outdoor entertainment center called Champion Square, Solomon and his partners were admiring their work one evening. “We looked across the street at the Superdome and it was dark,” says Solomon. “And I thought that was silly.”
The renamed Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a symbol of New Orleans’ rebirth, was in the homestretch of a $300 million renovation and Solomon thought that lighting the perimeter would be a great finishing touch. So he came up with a solution that was both economical and energy-efficient and pitched it, bringing in both the management team at the Superdome, and the New Orleans Saints. Partnering with a Danish company, Solomon built an LED lighting system that now lights up the Superdome nightly with an array of changing colors and patterns. “That was the project that solidified us in people’s minds,” he says. “And that’s when we said, let’s do it right and start doing things in-house.”
Infrastructure for the Future
With a loan from a local bank, lines of credit, and some family savings, Solomon and his partners began growing the company by buying a small lighting and staging company in July 2011. The “middleman” role that the company had been playing would become obsolete as the partners invested in their own staff and equipment.
“In the last year and half, our volume has tripled,” says Solomon. “Our staff went from five or six to 80, and we’ll be at 100 by the end of this year.” The company, which stated in a single 2,000-square-foot office, now has three facilities including a 40,000-square-foot warehouse. Every bit of inventory and gear, says Solomon, is tracked via a cloud-based system.
Challenges on the Horizon
With the convention, tourism, and live entertainment industries growing rapidly in New Orleans, Solomon has been well positioned as a local player and a one-stop shop. The company will post a hefty $11 million in revenue this year, but Solomon knows that he’ll hit a wall unless he moves beyond New Orleans.
“A big part of our model is to get clients while they’re in New Orleans and then follow them,” he says. For instance, the company now does several events in a variety of locations for clients such as the Coast Guard Foundation and regional energy provider Entergy. But Solomon will need more clients like that to ensure future growth. He’s hoping that the plum Super Bowl contract with CBS will help him not only maintain the momentum he’s built up locally, but put his company on a highly visible national playing field.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu released a slate of election endorsements Friday afternoon, with the most notable being of three candidates running for the Orleans Parish School Board.
Landrieu is backing Sarah Newell Usdin, a nonprofit leader running in the board’s 3rd District against education activist Karran Harper Royal and incumbent Brett Bonin; Woody Koppel, the 6th District incumbent who is facing a challenge from Jason Coleman of the Coleman Cab Co. family; and Nolan Marshall Jr., a business owner who is hoping to unseat incumbent Thomas Robichaux in the 7th District.
The mayor did not endorse any candidate in the three other competitive School Board races.
Landrieu renewed his earlier endorsements of City Council candidates Dana Kaplan in District B and James Gray in District E.
He also affirmed his support for Charles Jones for a 4th Circuit Court of Appeal judgeship, Tracey Flemings-Davillier for a seat at Criminal District Court and Darren Lombard for clerk of 2nd City Court.
Landrieu said he favors a City Charter amendment that would have candidates for the two at-large City Council seats run in separate races rather than in a single field of candidates, and he backed extension of the Crescent City Connection bridge tolls.
To no one’s surprise, Landrieu, a Democrat, also endorsed President Obama and U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, for re-election.
By Doug McCash, The Times-Picayune
The Krewe of Endymion plans to dominate the Carnival route in 2013 with the world’s largest Mardi Gras float ever, a $1.2 million, 330-foot behemoth titled “Pontchartrain Beach, Then and Now.” The eight-segmented extravagance, designed to carry 230 riders, stretches almost the entire length of krewe’s Mid-City den where it is being decorated to evoke memories of New Orleans’ bygone amusement park Pontchartrain Beach that closed in 1983.
The “Pontchartrain Beach,” which could stretch the length of a football field, beats its next largest rival, the Krewe of Orpheus’ “Smokey Mary” float, by 102 feet, said the float’s builder Barry Kern, chief financial officer of Mardi Gras World and Blaine Kern Studios.
The behemoth float was one of two major revelations delivered by the Endymion management during a mildly surrealistic press conference on Thursday (Oct. 25), which was held on the steps of an artificially moon-lit, neo-classical mansion housed inside Kern’s Mardi Gras World warehouses on the Mississippi riverfront.
The other news flash was that pop diva Kelly Clarkson will be the celebrity grand marshal of the Feb. 9 parade and the entertainment headliner at the Endymion ball in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome afterward. Clarkson, the first winner of the “American Idol” television talent contest, follows in the footsteps of pop luminaries including Kid Rock in 2009, fellow “American Idol” alumnus Taylor Hicks in 2007 and Britney Spears in 2000. Endymion founder Ed Muniz said that revenue from the popular ball allows the non-profit organization to pay for projects like the million-plus “Pontchartrain Beach” float. And that’s “not doubloons,” Muniz said.
Though news of Grammy award winning Clarkson’s appearance at Endymion 2013 was welcome, it was the details of the history-making float that captured the imagination. “Pontchartrain Beach, Then and Now” was originally envisioned as a blockbuster attraction to mark the Mid-City krewe’s 50th anniversary in 2016, Kern said. TheSuper Bowl taking place in the Crescent City in 2013, however, prompted the 2,750-member organization to roll the goliath out early.
The big float was originally imagined to be even bigger, with 10 segments. Kern joked that eventually Endymion would be able to park a continuous line of floats from City Park all the way down Canal Street, making a moving parade unnecessary.
Locomotion was a big hurtle in building the massive freight-train-like float. The tractor that will pull the “Pontchartrain Beach” is the same kind used to tow Boeing 747s at airports. To avoid flats, the tires of the new float are solid rubber. The chassis is expected to carry more than 40 tons – 11 of which will be made up of beads and other throws.
If sheer scale weren’t enough, the segmented float will feature twin lighting systems, Muniz said. One will duplicate the kind of vintage lighting visitors to the original amusement park might have known, but at the flip of a switch, the old-fashioned lights will be supplanted by high-tech LED illumination. The effect will symbolize the “then and now” aspect of the design.
In a still more startling innovation, the float will exude the aroma of popcorn and cotton candy, and “all the smells you’d like to smell from a theme park,” Kern said. Asked how the olfactory effect would be accomplished, Kern said that some things must remain Mardi Gras secrets.
History’s biggest float was designed by Kern’s artistic director Damon Bowie, who took the podium Thursday to reveal the inspiration for each segment of the creation. The first segment depicts the parabolic Zephyr roller coaster, the second represents the flying horses of the carousel, the third segment is surmounted by a Ferris wheel and the fourth represents the “Wild Maus,” which Bowie described as a “treacherous little ride.”
The fifth segment recalls Pontchartrain Beach’s haunted house attraction. During a tour of the den, eerie artificial vapor wafted from the creepy upper dormers of the float Alluring segment six includes vintage images of mid-century bathing beauties, one of whom is Muniz’s wife – the young couple frequented Pontchartrain Beach when they were dating.
Expect loud music from the seventh segment, dedicated to the “Music Express” attraction. Bowie said he hopes to play 1970s funk master Rick James. The final segment features the huge clown head that was one of Pontchartrain Beach’s signature images.
Endymion’s 2013 theme is “Ancient Mysteries,” though nostalgia for the mid-20th-century amusement park dominated Thursday’s presentation. To further emphasize the sun and fun symbolism of the “Pontchartrain Beach” float, this year’s riders will throw beach balls and plush clowns as well as Endymion light-up medallions.
Ragusa is helping Companies With A Mission™ connect with New Orleans area nonprofit organization, businesses, and individuals to help grow participation in the “Super Service Challenge.”
The nonprofit organization partnered with the Brees Dream Foundation to give $1 million to New Orleans area charities leading up to the Super Bowl. Prizes ranging from $2,000 – $25,000 will be awarded to area charities.
Participating in the Super Service Challenge New Orleans is easy with these 5 steps!
- Register as a team captain at www.superservicechallenge.com
- Identify a team of 3 – 8 coworkers to serve. There is no limit to how many teams can come from your company.
- Schedule a one-day or half-day service project
- Serve on the day that you choose, and remember to capture photos/videos of your service
- Submit your entry by 5 pm CT on Monday, January 7, at www.superservicechallenge.com.
Ragusa coordinated with Mayor Landrieu’s office to to put together his team’s video entry.
To learn more about the Super Service Challenge and how it’s changing the way corporations give back to the community, visit www.superservicechallenge.com and follow them on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.
For full media coverage on this topic, click here.
By Associated Press
Ruby Bridges remembers how excited she was when an anonymous donor sent Dr. Seuss books to her New Orleans home in 1960, the year she ended segregation in local public education by enrolling at a previously all-white elementary school.
The civil rights icon says the books were a bright spot during the time she entered the William Frantz Elementary School at the age of 6. They were pivotal not only to her passion for reading, but also to her later work to get books to as many schoolchildren as possible.
The free festival is on Friday and Saturday. Books will be given to children free and there will be readings by Bridges and other authors.
It was on Nov. 14, 1960, that court-ordered integration of public schools began in New Orleans. Escorted by U.S. marshals through an angry crowd, Bridges walked up the steps and into the school. The moment was captured in pictures and in a Norman Rockwell painting that last summer hung for a time in the White House.
Ken Ducote, a teacher and school administrator in New Orleans’ public school system from 1971 to 2003, said Bridges put a name and face on integration.
“Until that moment, black kids and white kids didn’t have relationships with each other. They didn’t know each other by name. There was a real disconnect,” said Ducote, who now serves on the advisory board for the Ruby Bridges Foundation.
Bridges, 58, lives in suburban New Orleans and wrote a book geared to older children about her experience at Frantz called “Through My Eyes.” She travels the country speaking at schools and book fairs and says her experience, though lonely at times, wasn’t as scary as one might think.
“I just thought it was like Mardi Gras,” she said, referring to the policemen and mob outside the school. “I’m sure it was a different story for my parents.”
Bridges said she remembers feeling safe at school and being greeted each morning with a smile and hug from her teacher, Barbara Henry. School, she says, is a place where every child belongs and where children from all backgrounds can connect through books and education.
“My message is really that racism has no place in the hearts and minds of our children,” she said.
Bridges said she empathizes with parents struggling to provide for their children. That’s why some books will be distributed free at the festival. Others will be offered for sale.
For Bridges, the eldest child in a family that would grow to include eight children, receiving the Dr. Seuss books is a special memory.
“I so loved getting those books,” she said. “We didn’t have much growing up. My parents were concerned with things like where the next meal was coming from, so books were a luxury.”
The family lived a few blocks from William Frantz elementary in an upper 9th Ward neighborhood. The area flooded when levees failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The school is still under repair and is on the National Register of Historical Places.
Ducote said Bridges’ story is part of an exhibit at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis called “The Power of Children,” which also includes the stories of Holocaust survivor Anne Frank and AIDS sufferer Ryan White.
“They were all children surrounded by something bad who continued to grow and come of age and build themselves up stronger in spite of their circumstances,” Ducote said. “Any child being bullied today, over race or for any other reason, can feel empowered by their stories.”
The New Orleans book festival was launched to mark the 50th anniversary of Bridges’ historic walk into Frantz Elementary. It begins Friday evening with a reading and musical performance by the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra. Families are invited to bring picnic baskets to enjoy the event on the grounds of the Latter Library, just off the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line.
Festivities continue Saturday with food, music, readings and activities geared toward children.