Part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to use property sales to help balance the state budget got legislative clearance Monday.
The Louisiana House and Senate Natural Resources committees agreed to sell Wooddale Towers near Tom Drive in Baton Rouge to developer Eugene Ji for $350,000. The state bought the 12-story office building for $1.875 million in 1990.
The money from the sale will be socked into the $24.7 billion proposed state operating budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The sale easily cleared the committees despite grumblings from legislators.
“Sometimes we can start an unwise practice of getting rid of things we own,” warned state Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi.
Thompson is against relinquishing another piece of property on the governor’s sale list. Jindal wants to sell a piece of property near the State Capitol that used to be home to the state Department of Insurance.
The sale of the insurance lot needs legislative approval as do the sales of an office building on Third Street in downtown Baton Rouge and a 525-acre tract and hospital complex structures in St. Tammany Parish. All of the money would go into the state budget.
Deputy Commissioner Ray Stockstill, of the Division of Administration, told legislators Monday that the state spends $300,000 a year on the upkeep of Wooddale Towers. The building has been vacant since 2011 and was the site of a 1996 domestic dispute that ended in murder.
Part of the upkeep expense is to run the heating and air conditioning system, said Billy Wilson, of the Office of State Buildings.
Running the system prevents mold, he said.
“We wanted to keep it viable during the process of the sale,” Wilson said.
A year ago, the Jindal administration wanted to put Wooddale Towers up for public auction at a minimum sale price of $450,000.
State Rep. Stephen Ortego, D-Carencro, asked Monday why the appraised value dropped by $100,000 and if the decrease had anything to do with the purchase offer on the table.
“Are you asking if there was collusion?” Stockstill joked before asking Bernell Boudreaux, of the Office of State Lands, to answer Ortego’s question.
Boudreaux said appraisals are based on the real estate market at the time. “The value of the property’s changed,” he said.
Ortego suggested the state could rent out the building.
Boudreaux said no one would rent the building in its current condition. The appraisal makes note of asbestos.
“We’re going to give it away,” Ortego complained.
Stockstill said selling the property will eliminate a recurring maintenance expense for the state and generate $350,000 for the budget.
He said the state got one offer for the property in two years.
State Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Napoleonville, said the state needs to sell the property to save on maintenance alone.
Ortego tried to convert the sale price to $450,000. His motion was rejected.