Author: Christiaan Mader

Waitr affirms commitment to Lafayette after acquisition by a Texas billionaire

The gist: The news broke this week that app-based food delivery service Waitr was acquired by a Texas billionaire in a $308 million deal that will take the company public. CEO Chris Meaux says the company intends to expand operations in Louisiana and will continue to call Lafayette and Lake Charles home.

Meaux tells The Current..."We're committed to Lake Charles and Lafayette; that's where the bulk of our employee base is from a corporate perspective. We're committed to Louisiana. This is gonna remain our home and that was an important factor in this deal." Waitr's management staff will remain the same, with Meaux continuing to serve as CEO. He also will be the newly public company's board chairman.

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You can breathe now: In the immediate wake of the acquisition, it wasn’t particularly clear where Waitr would end up. It's now owned by Texas billionaire Tillman Fertitta, the CEO of seafood restaurant chain Landry's. Fertitta also owns the Golden Nugget Casino in Lake Charles.

Waitr is a major success story for Acadiana and Lake Charles. Losing its growing payroll and employment would have been a huge blow for a down and out Lafayette economy. Waitr employs between 400 and 500 people in Acadiana, including drivers, and accounts for roughly $25 million in annual payroll in Louisiana, according to a rough estimate from Meaux.

What to watch for: The acquisition will accelerate Waitr’s growth rapidly. Before the deal, Waitr was projected to double its revenue next year to $250 million. Capital infusion of this scale will put Waitr in the driver’s seat nationally in the app-based food delivery space in secondary markets. Meaux says the company will add three or four new cities to its portfolio per month and begin buying up smaller competitors. The company will continue to emphasize small and mid-size cities in its growth and marketing strategy. Meaux refers to Waitr as a "small town company."

Locally, Meaux says the company is expanding beyond its offices at The Daily Advertiser building on Bertrand Drive. One possible landing spot is the Lemoine building Downtown. Meaux indicates the company is close to deciding on a site, but would not disclose where it would end up. Meaux says the company will continue to hire more software engineers, customer service reps and restaurant support staff going forward. Lafayette is Waitr's software engineering hub.

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Gov. Edwards appeared at UHC to stump for a fix to the state’s budget crisis

The gist: Edwards held a press conference at UHC to highlight the impact of a budget impasse in the state legislature. The budget currently working its way through the legislature imposes steep cuts to healthcare and the apparent damage could be devastating. UHC officials have warned that the hospital would effectively shut down if a budget deal doesn't fund the partnership that operates it. Just last week, 37,000 patients in medicaid funded nursing home care were alerted that their coverage may disappear.

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”It shouldn’t be this hard” was Edwards basic message exhorting lawmakers to put aside politicking and sort out a proper budget. Edwards rallied local firepower behind that message. Richard Zuschlag, CEO of Acadian Companies, set the governor up with an emotional appeal for bipartisanship to solve the budget crisis:

“Failure to do so would cause a catastrophic healthcare crisis,” Zuschlag said. “This isn’t about Republicans and Democrats. It’s about the people of Acadiana.”

Zuschlag also penned a #SaveUHC letter in The Advocate. 

The state needs to close the gap on $648 million in lost revenue this session because a temporary sales tax will expire.  Edwards noted that number would climb if the partner hospitals close; the state receives $168 million in lease payments from its private partners like Lafayette General Health, which operates UHC. Edwards said running the state’s partner hospitals costs about $200 million annually.

Indeed, it’s argued that losing UHC would crush Acadiana economically, potentially siphoning off $70 million in lost money.

What does Edwards want? Long term, he says he wants a stable budget process. Right now, he’s asking for a portion of that one-penny temporary sales tax to stay on the books. He said today that will fully fund essential services and reduce tax collections by $400 million.

But isn’t this really about politics? It’s hard to see it any other way. For a bipartisan appeal, Edwards spent a lot of time in his remarks raking legislators over the coals for failing to create a sustainable budget structure over the past two years of special sessions and partisan haranguing.

On the right, folks will tell you that Edwards is fear-mongering — Rep. Nancy Landry used that word exactly in a tweet — and that no one believes that the budget as written will go forward.

But, there’s talk out there that Republican lawmakers simply don’t want a Democratic governor to have a win. Edwards said there are legislators “praying for others to have the courage to do the right thing” so healthcare can be restored to full funding while they quietly vote against raising revenue.

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Carlee Alm-LaBar is leaving her post as planning director

The gist: Alm-LaBar has given notice that she will leave her post as director of Lafayette Consolidated Government's Development and Planning Department, effective June 22, to take a planning position with Southern Lifestyle Development, a Lafayette-based real estate group known for traditional neighborhood developments like River Ranch.

Who is she and why is this a big deal? Alm-LaBar was one of a few holdovers from the administration of Joey Durel. She last served as chief development officer in that administration, a position Robideaux eliminated upon taking office.

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In her eight years with LCG, Alm-LaBar spearheaded the development of the Unified Development Code and PlanLafayette, pushing city-parish government toward modernized urban planning. She also led the Evangeline Thruway Redevelopment Team, a committee charged with planning and redevelopment efforts in the neighborhoods inside the future impact zone of the I-49 Connector.

Robideaux's policies Downtown and in the city's urban core arguably reflect Alm-LaBar's influence.

What to watch for: Robideaux’s administration has now lost two experienced and respected directors this spring — Alm-LaBar and [LUS chief Terry Huval] — and three in total, counting the departure of Public Works Director Tom Carroll last year. Replacing Huval and Alm-LaBar will be an important task for Robideaux's administration and will give some indication of his administrative vision.

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Lynda Frese: A figure in the natural world

Exploring the meaning of sacred space

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Downtown is running out of sewer capacity That’s another roadblock for redeveloping the Old Federal Courthouse

Not long after the city received and released ideas for the Old Federal Courthouse from five interested developers, it surfaces that Downtown may not have the sewer capacity to serve their ambitions.

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Cashing in on blockchain What does that mean for Lafayette?

The mayor’s cryptocurrency cash grab took the lead in local day-after headlines, but it may be worth paying more attention to his interest in blockchain

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Mixed Use A snapshot of the five bids to redevelop the Old Federal Courthouse

The Old Federal Courthouse in Downtown has languished unoccupied for about 10 years now. Last year, a team of consultants advised the city to do something with the property, warning that it had become a “monument of indecision” — words now stenciled in polite graffiti on the courthouse door. Now, five groups have thrown their hats into the ring to redevelop it, responding to the city’s call for credentials. The projects and players range in ambition and notoriety. One idea would add 135 new residences to the district. Below are the responses and some overviews. 

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Lafayette General Health warns that it will stop running UHC unless the Legislature fully restores funding to the hospital

The gist

LGH President David Callecod issued a stern warning to Gov. John Bel Edwards(https://lapolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/UHC-040318-.pdf) that if the Legislature can’t find money to fund Lafayette’s University Hospital & Clinics, which LGH runs on the state’s behalf, then LGH would be forced to stop operating the training hospital and its urgent care clinic. Callecod put a June 30, 2018, deadline, the end of an “anticipated” special session, before LGH would vacate UHC and fire its 800 employees. LGH would also demand a refund of the “unused portion” of its near $16 million in prepaid rent for this year.

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Some background

LGH took over operations of UHC in 2013. Previously, LSU’s medical school had run the hospital as a teaching facility. Under LGH’s management, the hospital still serves as a training ground for the state’s medical residents and as an essential source of care for Lafayette’s disadvantaged. The urgent care clinic at UHC, which LGH opened after assuming control, takes Medicaid payments. It’s one of the only clinics in town that does that. Callecod’s letter notes that the facility served 54,000 patients last year, many of them poor and uninsured.

The takeaway

Callecod signaled this move last month(http://www.katc.com/story/37718147/lafayette-general-health-warns-uhc-will-close-if-lawmakers-cant-find-solution-to-budget-crisis). Gov. Edwards’ proposed budget, announced at the beginning of this year, cut $650 million in state health funding, precipitating this confrontation. While it may not be surprising, it nevertheless shows just how bad things have gotten around the state’s budget deadlock. Jeremy Alford of LaPolitics reports that Callecod’s threat is not empty rhetoric. Should LGH follow through, the economic and social impact would be tremendous.

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Lafayette has a river. Why no river walk?

Lafayette doesn’t have a riverwalk like San Antonio or Chattanooga, or lots of other cities for that matter. Why, exactly, is that the case?

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Unpacked

What the self-storage boom says about us and the things we won’t let go.

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Finding Magic In Kolkata

Author Shome Dasgupta’s latest collection of short stories hearkens to the slum-world surrealism of Gabriel García Márquez. Kolkata is Dasgupta’s Columbia.

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Francis Pavy’s One-man Press

“It would be nice to have some oysters that big, huh?” quips Francis Pavy, the childlike blues of his eyes lusting over his own creation. The object of his desire — a plus-sized oyster etched into a 3-foot-by-4-foot slab of composite vinyl — is a custom-print block, a particularly appetizing example of Pavy’s preferred method of application for his vivacious […]

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