CONVENT — Businessman Sam Smith Jr. has made the apparent high offer for the St. James Youth Center, a defunct parish juvenile facility that officials have been trying to sell for nearly five years and that may soon be used to house recently released prison inmates and men who have been homeless.

Smith's corporation, IGM Services LLC, offered St. James Parish government $1.281 million for the 37-acre complex at the foot of the Sunshine Bridge in northwestern St. James near Donaldsonville, parish officials said.

Smith, who also owns Smith Tank and Steel of Gonzales, and Mark Stermer, co-senior pastor of The Church, said they plan to turn the 80-bed facility into a men's home and work training program designed to help people leaving prison or the streets.

Stermer said he operates two similar men's homes with a combined 70 occupants in Gonzales and Donaldsonville through his nonprofit, The Church United for Community Development. He said he has been offering the programs for about 20 years.

"We deal with everybody," Stermer said. "Anyone that's coming out, we help to get them back on the right path, get them work-trained, get them to where they can be productive to society."   

The Church is a non-denominational Christian church with locations in Baton Rouge, St. Amant, Donaldsonville and Livingston, as well in Mexico and South Africa. The Church also has a school and other outreach programs, The Church website says. 

St. James Parish Council Chairman Ryan Louque opened sealed bids for the center Wednesday night during a meeting in Convent. Bidders were present for the opening, including a group representing the IGM Services bid, Stermer, Smith and Ascension Parish attorneys Dwight Poirrier and Jeff Diez.  

IGM Services beat out two other bidders with an offer that is slightly above the $1.28 million appraised value that the council had previously set. Bids were due May 31, Parish President Timmy Roussel said.

The parish has had the complex for sale since shortly after it was shut down in mid-2013 but has been unable to attract bidders willing to pay the original $2.5 million appraised value or the subsequent reduced appraised values that the council had agreed to set.

More recently, after an opinion last year from the State Attorney General's Office that gave a blessing to a below market sale, the parish turned to a private sale with sealed bids.  

Parish officials had anticipated the possibility of having to pass an ordinance to cut the value of the complex again to match the price of the winning bid, but the offer from Stermer and Smith may make that unnecessary.

The other bidders were Jamie Ponville, with an offer of $400,000, and Four Falcons Investments LLC, a Donaldsonville-based group, with an offer of $750,000, according to Louque.      

After the bid opening, Stermer and Smith said they hope to have the facility operating almost as soon as they can get into it. Stermer noted that complex has had power and has had some regular maintenance. But both men expect the complex will also need some improvements first.

"We'll have groups of volunteers over there as soon as they hand us the keys," said Smith, who is a member of Stermer's church.

Assistant District Attorney Cody Martin, the parish legal adviser, told the council that the parish would have to review the offers and verify that the leading bid met other bid requirements.

Martin said the Parish Council could then revisit the issue as early as next week to make a decision on fair market value and whether the council is willing to sell the site at the price available.

Martin said it will likely take 60 days to close on the sale.   

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.