CONVENT — The future of the property that once housed the St. James Parish Youth Detention Center is at stake as local officials grapple with selling the empty building and its land at a reasonable price or demolishing the building for a new purpose.
The St. James Parish Council on Wednesday tabled until its Nov. 5 meeting a motion to reduce the property’s sale price by 50 percent of its market value.
That two-month delay should allow Parish President Timmy Roussel to inquire about contracting with a commercial real estate company to sell the property outright or promote the property in a regional real estate database.
Parish Councilman Terry McCreary said an agent could help acquire a higher price and better “package the property.”
Parish officials have not received any bids on the property, which is near the Sunshine Bridge, since April, when it was first offered for sale at $2.5 million.
The property’s price has been reduced to 75 percent of its market value at $1.87 million and has been further reduced to $1.63 million, or 65 percent of its market value.
If the Parish Council later votes to sell the property at 50 percent of market value, the property would cost $1.25 million.
The property has been declared surplus, and according to state law, its sale must be put out for bid each time the Parish Council votes to decrease the price, parish government spokesperson Melissa Wilkins said.
The multiparish youth center closed June 30, 2013, because of new state regulations that would have driven up the cost to maintain the facility.
St. James Parish now pays for local youth offenders to be housed at a detention center in Assumption Parish, paid for from a parishwide 1-mill property tax once used to maintain and operate the St. James youth detention center.
Parish officials have considered converting the now empty youth detention center, located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, into modular housing for temporary industrial workers, a prisoner work-release program hub, a nursing home or a minimum-security prison.
On Wednesday, Councilman Ken Brass asked the Parish Council to “keep an open mind” about using the property for affordable housing.
Although at least four entities have expressed recent interest in purchasing the property, Roussel recommended demolishing the youth center building if the parish is unsuccessful at selling the property at 50 percent of its appraised value.
Councilman Jimmy Brazan spoke against lowering the asking price, however.
“My concern is every time you lower the cost of this property, you have more of a chance of something that’s not going to be beneficial coming to St. James Parish,” he said.
If the building is demolished, Brazan said, the land should be kept to somehow benefit the parish.
Roussel and Councilman Alvin St. Pierre both cautioned the Parish Council on the potential cost of a commercial real estate commission, but St. Pierre encouraged the idea of submitting the property to a regional database.
Parish Attorney Bruce Mohon recommended receiving cost estimates from several commercial real estate companies.