A federal judge once again has cleared the way for New York investment bank Goldman Sachs to seize and auction property along Nicholson Drive in Baton Rouge and at the Port of Iberia.
The properties were owned by Lafayette businessman Michel Moreno and used as collateral to secure a $52.4 million loan that has been in default since last summer.
In a ruling filed Tuesday in Lafayette, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty rejected Moreno’s attempt to bring the case to arbitration and appointed Latter & Blum Property Management Inc. as keeper of the properties. No date has been set for the sale.
The property in Baton Rouge is 34.8 acres on Nicholson Drive between downtown Baton Rouge and LSU, where Moreno had planned to develop the River District. Plans included two hotels, 1,832 residential units in the form of townhomes and apartments, along with a grocery store and acreage for other businesses.
Earlier this month, Dalis Waguespack, Moreno’s sister and managing partner of the River District, filed documents with the city-parish Planning Commission to add 6.9 acres at River Road and Haig Street to the River District’s planned unit development. The commission is set to consider the request at its June 20 meeting.
Goldman Sachs in July sued Moreno, his wife Tiffany and land-holding entities they own after they missed payments on the $52.4 million loan. Goldman sought to sell the properties last year to offset what the Morenos owed, which, by September, came to $58.4 million with interest and penalties included.
Doherty stopped the properties’ seizure and sale when Moreno sought to send the matter to arbitration. The judge on Tuesday denied his request for arbitration.
Doherty wrote that “after an event of default, under this contractural language, Goldman Sachs is not limited to an arbitration suit; rather, it may proceed by filing a suit, an action of law or any other appropriate proceeding to enforce the agreement.”
Local real estate experts have said the Nicholson property would be attractive to local, state and regional developers because of all the activity going on in the area. It’s between downtown and LSU near the Water Campus, which will be a center for river, coastal and delta research. Plans are in the works for a streetcar line along Nicholson that would connect LSU and downtown. The university also is seeking to develop the Nicholson Gateway, a 28-acre swath from West Chimes Street to Skip Bertman Drive, which includes the old Alex Box Stadium property.
The property at the Port of Iberia comprises 106.7 acres on which an oilfield fabrication company that Moreno formerly owned — Dynamic Industries — had been located. The shops and offices are now vacant, and Dynamic Industries is operating in another yard at the port.