A number of business owners with operations inside of the new city of St. George are waiting to see if there will be any major changes to the cost of doing business with its incorporation.
Some business executives are concerned about the future of the new city and worry about a potentially higher tax bill if there is a new school district created and about the outsourcing plans for services such as drainage and roads. Other business owners are bullish about the opportunity for new representation and government and laud the creation of St. George.
The Advocate reached out to more than two dozen businesses located inside St. George, with about half of them responding with comments. None suggested any plans to seek annexation into Baton Rouge to avoid being in St. George — as happened this week with one large office building and had occurred years ago with some retail properties and hospitals as St. George sought incorporation.
Richard Lipsey, of hunting and fishing distributor Lipsey’s, said he is concerned about the future of the new city — particularly regarding public services that are proposed to be privatized.
“My building does not flood, but we have water 2 feet deep in the street every time it rains,” Lipsey said. “The city has been working on that but now my concern is that being in St. George will they continue working on it to solve the problem. I’m concerned about taxes; we have no idea what kind of taxes will be levied on us to pay for schools because I’m sure they’re going to want their own school district at some point.”
Lipsey has been vocal about his opposition to the creation of St. George for years. Lipsey's contributed $5,000 to the No City of St. George political action committee, which took out advertisements discouraging voters from casting ballots in favor of the new city.
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For Art Favre, chief executive officer of Performance Contractors, the creation of St. George is one reason the company is not tempted to relocate its headquarters outside of Louisiana.
Favre cited the new city “and their vision for governance as a step in the right direction.”
The executive was critical of the tax environment in East Baton Rouge Parish.
“We are tired of the constant tax increases from the state and the parish with no improvement in the quality of life in our community,” Favre said. “There is so much mismanagement and waste in the city of Baton Rouge and the city-parish government, privatization would be a welcomed improvement and a significant cost savings to the taxpayers.”
Favre contributed $50,000 to the St. George political action committee, which took out ads to encourage residents to vote in favor of the new city.
The founder of Go-Devil Manufacturers of Louisiana, Warren Coco, lives in St. George and his company is headquartered there too. Coco voted in favor of the new city.
“I think that this is the best thing that could happen to us,” Coco said.
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The executive said taxes collected by the city-parish were being “wasted” and that he is “very happy” to have new political representation.
For Tim Mockler, CEO of Mockler Beverage, his concern is about the long-term impact on Baton Rouge.
“My take on St. George is complicated but simple. Taxes will rise for everyone but short-term St. George will benefit,” Mockler said. “Long-term is the concern. This separation will weaken Baton Rouge and the long-term implications of that could mean even more population decline and even less interest in Baton Rouge.”
One business owner suggested that while he didn’t vote for the creation of St. George, he just wants to see the community come together again.
“Regardless of my choice, the people have spoken and I wish everyone would respect the results and try and heal a torn community going forward, rather than keep dividing the community the way this issue has done,” said Randy Poche, president of Superior Office Products.
Likewise, the CEO of Pod Pack International said he was neutral on St. George. “We don’t have enough information about the St. George project at this point to even start any discussions internally about anything," said CEO Tom Martin. "We will monitor what happens as this project unwinds and make decisions that are in the best interest of the company, our employees and our customers.”
Business leaders who said they were waiting for more information before making any major decisions included Turner Industries and Woman’s Hospital.
"At this time, we cannot determine the impact on Woman's Hospital as the path toward incorporation of St. George still holds many questions," said Robert Burgess, interim CEO of Woman's Hospital.
Neither Coco, Mockler, Poche, Martin nor Burgess contributed to political action committees in favor or against St. George.
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So far, owners of one commercial property, the five-story Four United Plaza office building off Essen Lane between the Interstate 10-12 split, have sought annexation into Baton Rouge from the edge of the St. George limits.
Charles Landry, an attorney and managing member of 8555 United Plaza LLC, which owns the building, was involved in efforts in 2014 to annex several major commercial centers out of the then-proposed St. George area into the Baton Rouge city limits. Those properties included much of the Mall of Louisiana, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, Siegen Lane Marketplace and Baton Rouge General’s Bluebonnet campus. Other properties Baton Rouge annexed were the Costco store near Interstate 12 and Airline Highway and L’Auberge Baton Rouge.
Officials with some of the shopping centers that are in St. George declined to say if they will seek annexation. Chelsea Thibodaux, spokeswoman for Perkins Rowe, the mixed-use development at the corner of Bluebonnet Boulevard and Perkins Rowe, said she wasn’t ready to make a comment yet about the annexation.
At the Bluebonnet Village shopping center, a 101,585-square foot space across from Perkins Rowe that has tenants such as Rouses Market, Office Depot and Buffalo Wild Wings, officials said they heard one comment from a tenant who was curious if the property would stay in St. George or ask to be annexed. Bluebonnet Village is on the fringe of the St. George boundaries, in an area where residents in the surrounding neighborhood voted against forming the new city.
“We’ve been communicating with our tenants and we support them,” said John Michael Holtmann, a principal with Concord Capital, the Jackson, Mississippi-based firm that owns Bluebonnet Village. “But we haven’t heard a strong opinion about this one way or another.”
Officials with TriGate Capital, the Dallas firm that owns Siegen Plaza, a 156,441-square-foot shopping center anchored by Target, Petco, Ross Dress for Less and HomeGoods, declined to comment on annexation.
Gulf Coast Commercial Group, the Houston company that owns Siegen Village Shopping Center, which is across the street from Siegen Plaza, did not respond to repeated phone calls. Siegen Village is a 21-acre center anchored by Office Depot, Planet Fitness and Big Lots.
Mark Hebert, a commercial real estate agent with Kurz & Hebert, said because the St. George vote is so new, it’s hard to say if it will have any impact on commercial real estate in the area. “Everything moves along Interstate 10 and Interstate 12 and that’s all St. George now,” he said. “What’s really going to change from a retail standpoint?”