Turk File

Turk File - June 2008

by Leslie Turk

Off to the races With local interest in thoroughbred racing skyrocketing again thanks to Maurice native Kent Desormeaux’s second shot at the Triple Crown on June 7, this could be another banner year for Evangeline Downs Racetrack & Casino.

Last year the Opelousas track’s spring/summer season posted across-the-board gains in several major categories, including total handle, on-track handle, purse distribution, and average field size for the 89-night meet. The average field size was more than 10 runners per race, the largest in the country. EVD officials say increased business and casino proceeds also drove purses to an all-time level. The nightly overnight purse distribution of $180,000 was more than $10,000 higher than in 2006, and with the improved stakes program, more than $19.4 million was paid out to horsemen.

Additionally, 19 stakes worth more than $1.8 million were contested during the meet, which was highlighted by the $200,000 Evangeline Mile. The 2008 spring/summer season, which started April 9, will feature 25 events worth a record $2.02 million, up more than 12 percent from last year. The schedule features races every Wednesday-Saturday through Labor Day, Sept. 1. Post time each race night is 6:20 p.m.

“Increased fields and purses will continue to set Evangeline Downs apart as the best place to race and wager,” says Steve Darbonne, director of racing operations. “We are continuing to make improvements to the program and to the facility, including a 7/8-mile turf track to be completed in the very near future.”

The 2008 meet is honoring the late David A. Yount, EVD’s assistant general manager who recently lost a year-long battle with cancer. Yount was instrumental in moving the racing operation without interruption from its Carencro site (where, along with Delta Downs, Desormeaux got his start) to Opelousas, maintaining the operation in Carencro while the casino was built and put into service in late 2003 — well ahead of the state regulated deadline.

EVD, which moved to the gambling friendly parish and added a casino to its offerings after Lafayette Parish voted to ban video poker, is now facing a potential competitor from the former track. EVD officials are fighting a proposal by state Sen. Nick Gautreaux of Abbeville to bring horse racing and parimutuel wagering back to the old Carencro facility.

Gautreaux is pushing legislation that would allow quarter-horse racing on a refurbished track in Carencro without a vote of the parish’s residents. The property is now owned by Carencro businessman Carrol Castille, who has announced a major redevelopment of the 200-acre site, including a gated residential community, hotel and convention center and entertainment complex called Ballistick Park.

At press time, Gautreaux had asked to defer the bill to give him time to meet with EVD officials.

Jeff Speer’s ship appears to have come in — again. For almost a decade the local attorney has dreamed of opening a deluxe hotel in the heart of downtown Lafayette. In 2005, as he was finally nearing the start of a hotel project between the new federal courthouse and Congress Street, two major storms threw a monkey wrench into his plan.

“The world really turned on us when Katrina hit,” Speer told Acadiana Business’ sister publication The Independent Weekly in 2006. “And then Rita hits. And the banks start waffling in their positions and, of course, if they’re going to give you any money, it’s going to be at such an exorbitant rate that it really doesn’t make it profitable and it starts to kill the project.”

Just when the outlook was bleak, in comes the federal Go Zone legislation. After initially being told he’d have to wait in line behind projects in areas with a greater need, Speer’s hotel (at the time he was planning a Hilton Homewood Suites product with condos on the top floor) was immediately added to the docket and approved by the State Bond Commission. The bond financing, however, disappeared just as quickly, as the commission decided to revisit projects it had previously approved due to an overwhelming docket of requests. On Tuesday, May 20, however, the commission announced that $19.75 million in bonds have been approved to finance the project.

Speer, who could not be reached for comment, previously said that through the Go Zone bonds, the $20 million hotel would be financed with a low 4.5 percent interest rate. The difference in what his loan payments would be compared to a typical pre-Katrina 8 percent interest rate on a 15-year loan was about $40,000 less per month, savings of up to $6.8 million.


David L. Callecod, who for the past five years has served as chief executive officer of Marion General Hospital in Marion, Ind., has been hired as Lafayette General Medical Center’s new president and CEO.

Like LGMC, Marion General is a not-for-profit acute care facility. Before joining that facility, Callecod worked at hospitals in Searcy, Ark., and Indianapolis, Ind.

Callecod replaces Jamey Thaw, who left in October after serving as the top executive for almost a decade. In the weeks leading up to his departure, Thaw was on personal leave, and the reasons for his leave and subsequent exit were never disclosed by the hospital or its board of trustees.

Callecod received his bachelor’s degree at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and a master’s degree in business administration at Indiana Wesleyan University. Callecod and his family will join the Lafayette community this summer. Interim CEO Patrick Gandy, the hospital’s COO, will continue to serve until that time.

The Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation has recognized the efforts of the Preservation Alliance of Lafayette, bestowing a 2008 Preservation Honor Award on the local nonprofit group for its efforts to educate the public on the importance of historic preservation. Last year the Preservation Alliance of Lafayette was instrumental in helping the city earn Preserve America community status, a designation that allows for access to federal grant monies that can be used for major preservation projects — even if those properties are not on an official historic register. Securing those funds, however, requires a local match.

The local alliance was founded in 1993 and has more than 125 active members whose membership fees are used to hold educational and information-driven events to promote preservation and encourage new projects that not only save the historic buildings of Lafayette, but help revitalize the historic neighborhoods of the city.

“Even as a small group, the alliance has been able to host many ‘open houses’ of historic buildings that otherwise would have remained closed to the public,” says Jeff Larcade, who serves on the alliance in connection with his position as a planner in Lafayette Consolidated Government’s Planning, Zoning & Codes department. “The events showcase what can be done with older buildings and the need to continue restorations of the remaining, valuable sites in the community.” The alliance also works closely with the Lafayette Preservation Commission (the body charged with registering properties on the Lafayette City-Parish Register of Historic Properties) to guide building owners on proper restoration practices.

The Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation is the statewide partner for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.