Week in Review, Aug. 24-28: Storms Come and Go but ‘Phase 2’ Restrictions Remain

NEW ORLEANS – Despite the threat of two hurricanes and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there was time for some business as usual in New Orleans this week. Here are news highlights compiled from staff and wire reports:

Hurricane Marco fizzled out off the coast of Louisiana early in the week, but then came the main event. The Associated Press reported Friday that more than 750,000 homes and businesses were without power in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas in the wake of Hurricane Laura, which was officially one of the strongest hurricanes ever to strike the United States. The storm caused at least six deaths as it came ashore near the Louisiana-Texas state line. “It is clear that we did not sustain and suffer the absolute, catastrophic damage that we thought was likely,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards. “But we have sustained a tremendous amount of damage.” The United Way of Southeast Louisiana is accepting donations for storm relief.

The team behind NOLA Brewing’s popular craft beer, Sparkling Hop’d Tea, and NOLA Hand Sanitizer announced that it is launching NOLA Pizza Co., a New York City-style pizza concept. “This is a natural fit for our us,” says Doug Walner, executive chairman and owner of New Orleans Lager & Ale Brewing Co. “In addition to pizza pairing so perfectly with beer, pizza dough starts with very similar ingredients and a process we know very well …water, yeast and fermentation, which all are right in our wheelhouse. The trick to making great NYC style pizza clearly starts with the water and we’re using our brewery expertise and in-house lab to make that happen.”

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A riverboat casino operation in Baton Rouge will move onto land in 2022, taking advantage of a 2018 state law. The daily paper reports that Hollywood Casino Baton Rouge will spend an estimated $21 million to $25 million to make the move. Hollywood’s vice president of marketing, Aaron Molluram said more than 800 slot machines and 12 table games will be moved into what is now the Hollywood Casino’s atrium in Baton Rouge.

Plans are moving forward for a $90 million dollar sawmill project that could bring nearly 100 jobs to a Louisiana parish. The new sawmill in St. Helena Parish is expected to employ 95 workers full time by 2022 and create 120 construction jobs at the site near Greensburg, according to state economic development documents.

Sales of new homes jumped again in July, rising 13.9% as the housing market continues to gain traction following a spring downturn caused by pandemic-related lockdowns. The Commerce Department reported Tuesday that July’s gain propelled sales of new homes to a seasonally-adjusted annual rate of 901,000, the most since 2006. That’s a far bigger number than analysts had expected and follows big increases in May and June. The government report has a high margin of error, so the July figures could be revised in the coming months.

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New Orleans Wine & Food Experience has been named a winner in the 2020 USA TODAY 10Best Readers’ Choice travel award contest for Best Wine Festival. NOWFE was nominated by a panel of experts who partnered with 10Best editors, and the top 10 winners were determined by popular vote. “We are honored to be listed alongside some of the finest wine and food festivals in the country,” said Joey Worley, incoming NOWFE president. “While this year’s spring event was postponed we remain resolute in delivering unforgettable experiences in the future.”

Ryan Gootee General Contractors LLC recently renovated the former K&B/Rite Aid building on Jefferson Highway to be the new home of an Ochsner Outpatient and Home Infusion Center. RGGC partnered with Rozas Ward Architects and YKM Consulting to complete the 17,100-square-foot renovation. The project included a pharmacy, seven infusion rooms and office support spaces throughout. 

Louisiana’s health department will seek new bids for multibillion-dollar Medicaid contracts managing the health care of 1.5 million people, ending a legal dispute that has dragged out over a year about four contractors the agency previously picked for the work.

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Airfoil Angels, a Gulf South-based angel investor firm, said it is actively searching for entrepreneurs and ventures that need seed, startup and growth capital. Airfoil Angels said it looks at all deals regardless of industry, deal size, or project phase, and is committed to a process-friendly connection between its affiliated investors and entrepreneurs. “The venture capital market is very challenging for entrepreneurs,” said Jay Taffet, the company’s founder. “There are very few options in the Gulf South, and the ones that do look at investment opportunities typically have very stringent requirements for venture pitches and presentation. We believe venture capital should be accessible, mutual and respectful towards giving all entrepreneurs a chance to make their case. After all, founders need funding and funders need deals.” 

Two Tulane University researchers were awarded a $150,000 “Fast Grant” for a project to make next-generation COVID-19 vaccines more effective. The funds come from an incubator fellowship and grant program for social entrepreneurs at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Microbiologist Lisa Morici, PhD, and immunologist James McLachlan, PhD, will test whether they can elicit a better immune response in tissues most vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection — the lungs and gut — by adding two bacteria-based adjuvants to COVID-19 vaccines in development. Adjuvants are ingredients used in vaccines to trigger an immune response. 

Mayor LaToya Cantrell today announced that the City of New Orleans “has filed suit against the parties responsible for the fatal collapse of the Hard Rock project, which killed three of our residents in October of last year,” according to a press release. The suit, which names the building owners and their partners and contractors, seeks damages on behalf of the city “as we continue to experience significant harm as a result of this disaster.” Cantrell said that 1031 Canal developer Mohan Kailas, his partners and their contractors bear the moral and legal obligation to accept responsibility for this horrific tragedy, and the suit seeks to hold them accountable. 

Louisiana will stay in “phase two” of the White House-approved restrictions meant to control the spread of COVID-19 for at least two additional weeks, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday. Crowds will remain limited to 50 people, face coverings still will be required in public settings, and bars still will be closed to on-premise service. Most other businesses will be limited to half of their normal capacity. COVID-19 testing sites in Louisiana have been shut down this week due to Tropical Storm Marco and Hurricane Laura. It takes about two weeks before a change in public behavior is reflected in the COVID-19 statistics, so Louisiana officials haven’t yet been able to measure the impact of reopening K-12 schools, colleges and universities. “We’re basically going to be blind for this week,” Edwards said.

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