Baton Rouge homeowners living near the old Woman’s Hospital said Monday that they support the city-parish’s effort to transform the facility into a public safety complex, which they believe will be an asset to the surrounding neighborhoods.
City-parish officials met with about 40 homeowners Monday night to answer questions about their plans to purchase the 24-acre hospital campus at Goodwood Boulevard and Airline Highway for $10 million.
“Let me set your mind at ease,” William Daniel, chief administrative officer to the mayor-president said early in the presentation. “Some of you were worried we’d house prisoners there. That is not going to happen.”
He said the public safety complex, which will eventually house both the Baton Rouge Police Department and the Sheriff’s Department, will mostly be administrative offices and a training facility. He said the law enforcement relocation will provide increases surveillance to the area and improved response times because the facility is in the center of the city.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis, who hosted the event, said the No. 1 concern among constituents was whether prisoners would be on the premises.
“When we started talking about public safety they thought it was a jail facility or even a holding cell,” she said. “They didn’t want to see that.”
Daniel said some criminals who are arrested could be brought in for booking or questioning, but none would spend the night at the complex.
Glenda Foster, a Baton Rouge realtor, said as long as no one is incarcerated at the facility, it would be a win for the Baton Rouge residents.
“It’s probably one of the most prudent purchases the city could make,” Foster said.
Dennis Vidrine, president of the Goodwood Property Owners Association, said the deal would improve property values.
“What better use for the facility than to have a public safety campus right in the center of Baton Rouge,” Vidrine said.
Neighbors said they have been closely monitoring the potential buyers of the property, noting that they have a vested interest in the new tenant.
“The stakes were huge,” said Clifford Grout, a Broadmoor Civic Association board member. “It’s one of the biggest pieces of property in the area. It’s near a school, a church and retail.”
City-parish officials stressed the cost savings of the deal, reminding residents that the mayor’s proposed infrastructure tax plan from 2011 included $102 million to build a brand new public safety complex.
The tax plan was ultimately rejected by the Metro Council.
“Even if we have to put five or 10 million dollars into it to get it where we want it, it’s still pennies on the dollar,” Daniel said.
The building will be financed with a 15-year loan from a local bank for $11 million, paid for out of the city-parish general fund.
Finance Director Marsha Hanlon said the cost to the city-parish would be about $900,000 per year.
Jim Frey, city-parish architect, said the administrative offices are “move-in ready” and the first tenants will be those working in the dilapidated Mayflower police headquarters. The Third District precinct, currently located on Coursey Boulevard, and the criminal investigation bureau on Plank Road also will be merged into the facility.
He estimated the relocation could start by the end of the year.
The Metro Council authorized the administration to pursue purchase of the hospital property.
The city-parish intends to hire a master planner to determine uses for some of the other buildings on the hospital campus that will require substantial renovation, officials said.
The original Woman’s Hospital building is expected to be torn down, and the two-story add on building that was used for hospital functions will be renovated.
Frey said the Sheriff’s Office will move-in after the renovations can be made to the add-on building to fit that agency’s needs.
Only one resident who attended the Monday meeting expressed opposition to the sale.
Rebecca Horton, a Baton Rouge native, said she wants a private hospital to purchase the property to fill the unmet needs of children’s pediatrics in the parish.
She said her daughter has mental health issues and is frequently sent out of the parish to get help.
“If a private hospital came in and purchased the facility or came into a project with the city, we would not have to have children traveling away from their mothers and their fathers,” she said.