The Jindal administration is preparing to sell the Capitol Park Welcome Center and an adjacent parking garage.
The administration will ask for legislative sign-off to declare the two structures surplus property, clearing the way for the sale process to begin.
The Capitol Park Welcome Center , located at 702 River Road next to the historic Pentagon apartments, falls under the lieutenant governor and the Office of Tourism.
“The welcome center is a great facility that just isn’t being utilized enough to justify the expense for taxpayers,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said. “Managing our finances and our properties responsibly means recognizing when a facility isn’t being used to its full potential.”
Nichols said the sale “will allow another organization to take advantage of the prime location, while providing more value for downtown Baton Rouge.”
Proceeds from all property sales are deposited into the state general fund. By selling underused facilities the state is able to reduce the amount of funding allocated to maintenance and upkeep of those buildings, in addition to collecting sale proceeds.
The 4,242-square-foot Capitol Park Welcome Center includes a theater space, meeting space and a patio with room for up to 600 people. It has been appraised at a value of $7.34 million.
The Welcome Center opened in 2007. Total costs ran about $5.08 million, including the building, exhibits, audio-visual equipment, signs and a River Road drop-off where school and bus groups can easily unload buses.
The parking garage across the street has been appraised at $4.05 million. Both property sale proposals will go before a joint meeting of the Legislature’s Natural Resources committees next week for approval. Once the sale is approved, the state will have several options in how to move the process forward, including sheriff’s sale auction, sealed bids or through a Realtor.
“I concur with the administration’s plan to sell the Welcome Center. It is clearly underutilized as a welcome center,” Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said Tuesday. “There is no parking at that facility. We literally get a handful of people a week to come in there.”
“I think it will be beneficial to put it back in the private sector,” Dardenne said. “There’s a sense there’s going to be a marketplace for it. Any use is a better use than the non-use that’s been a hallmark of its existence.”
The Welcome Center and the parking garage — located next-door to the new IBM building on Lafayette Street — were part of the Capitol Park Master Plan embarked on during the administration of former Gov. Mike Foster. The idea was to consolidate state agencies downtown to the parklike Capitol campus, complete with green space and pathways connecting them. The Welcome Center was supposed to be a gateway to the Capitol complex for tour groups but it never became one.
In the first seven years of its operation, the center had only 49,041 visitors. In some weeks, Dardenne said, there are fewer than 10 visitors.
Dardenne said the sale is not one of the money-raising gimmicks to plug budget holes that have been done in the past.
“This is not a gimmick to raise money,” said Dardenne, noting that any sale is likely months away. He said any money generated from the sales should be used for one-time expenses, not plowed into the budget for on-going expenses.
There are four Welcome Center employees who will be relocated, Dardenne said.
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