The owner of a troubled hotel at Four Corners in Lafayette could be forced to sell the property to make way for a police substation under a measure introduced at Tuesday’s City-Parish Council meeting.
City-Parish President Joey Durel’s administration began talks last year about possibly buying the Lesspay motel, knocking it down, then building a substation and public plaza in its place in an effort to breathe new life into the Four Corners area at the intersection of Cameron Street and University Avenue.
“We think a police substation is a key to revitalizing that area,” Durel said.
The council introduced a measure Tuesday to declare the project a “public necessity,” which opens the door for negotiations to buy the property either through a voluntary deal or a forced sale under the expropriation process.
A final vote is set for Jan. 20.
Durel said it’s too early to tell whether the expropriation process will be necessary, but so far, the owner seems interested.
“I think he is definitely intent on working with us,” Durel said.
The owner, Xiao Jun Lei, was not at Tuesday’s meeting, but his property manager said in a November interview that a sale would be considered “if the price is right.”
Durel said there is no reliable estimate for how much the hotel site might be worth, but city-parish government cannot legally pay more than appraised value for the property plus expenses for lost business.
He said the administration will seek an appraisal if the council signs off later this month on moving forward with the proposal.
Councilman Brandon Shelvin, who represents the Four Corners area, has been a big supporter of buying and tearing down the old hotel, which sits at a once-vibrant intersection that is now known more for drugs and prostitutes.
Other council members are wary, especially if the hotel’s owner would be forced to sell against his wishes.
“This is very new and very aggressive,” said City-Parish Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux.
Boudreaux said he wants to see specifics on crime reports in the area of the hotel — citations, arrest figures — to determine whether issues there are any worse than in other areas of the city.
“I need to hear what are we basing the move on. Of course, it needs to be beyond what is assumed,” he said.
The proposal to tear down the Lesspay motel first came before the council in October.
As originally proposed, an outside group would have bought the hotel, torn it down and built the police substation at the site.
In return, city-parish government would have given that group the old federal courthouse downtown, allowing the group to recoup the money spent at Four Corners by redeveloping the city-owned courthouse site into residential and commercial space — a key priority for the Downtown Development Authority.
The council balked at the trade, so now the administration is moving forward with both projects as separate issues.
In other business Tuesday, the council elected Boudreaux as chairman for 2015.
He replaces Council Kevin Naquin.
Boudreaux previously served as council chairman in 2011.
Follow Richard Burgess on Twitter, @rbb100.