The vacant federal building on Jefferson Street is pictured Saturday, February 17, 2018, in downtown Lafayette, La.

Advocate staff photo by Leslie Westbrook

Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux’s administration on Friday formally invited developers to submit their proposals for transforming the old federal courthouse on Jefferson Street, considered a critical piece of vacant downtown property.

Responses to the “request for qualifications,” or RFQ, are due April 9, with selection of a proposal and negotiations with the successful developer continuing through late spring and early summer. A City-Parish Council vote on the proposal will follow six weeks after negotiations.

Developers are free to propose any ideas for the site, so long as they encourage additional mixed-use development in the downtown area. At the same time, the administration is apparently eyeing more residential units downtown. Robideaux noted in an introductory letter that the site is ideal for residential housing, and the RFQ itself states that lack of housing has impeded downtown revitalization.

Robideaux, like his predecessor Joey Durel, is seeking to return the property to commerce above the objections of 15th Judicial Court judges and others who work in the parish courthouse. They want to move operations to the old federal building, arguing the cramped conditions of the current courthouse are a security threat.

The administration acknowledges within the RFQ that those wanting a new parish courthouse are “understandably” reluctant to let go of the federal building as a replacement. But the document also notes that voters defeated a 2006 proposition for a new courthouse, and that a millage renewal for courthouse and jail operations failed last spring; that measure succeeded on a second try in November.

Robideaux told The Advocate last week that there is no realistic chance of building a new courthouse any time soon, and that the urgency of the need for new property tax revenue makes it an ideal time to solicit development proposals.

Development cost could exceed $30 million, and the city-parish may need to be prepared to pony up part of that cost in some fashion, according to an Urban Land Institute report last year.

Follow Ben Myers on Twitter, @blevimyers.