New appraisal of defunct St. James Youth Center site cuts the value to $1.28 million — no takers yet _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Sign in front of the St. James Youth Center. Changes going into effect on July 1 pertaining to juvenile detention centers require the centers to receive licenses from the state. The St. James Youth Center chose not to pursue a license and will close at the end of June. The youth there will be transferred to a new facility opening in Assumption Parish.

A new appraisal of St. James Parish’s defunct Youth Center cut the value of the 37-acre juvenile detention facility near the Sunshine Bridge by more than $1.2 million.

To arrive at his new value of $1.28 million, appraiser David R. Miles told the Parish Council on Wednesday that he completely devalued the facility’s buildings and included a $250,000 discount on the asking price so a future buyer could demolish them.

Miles had previously valued the taxpayer-funded complex at $2.5 million, but the parish has not had buyers make bids even after it had cut the asking price twice last year down to $1.63 million, though there were some interested buyers.

Tablet/mobile users view video here.

“I believe the buildings are structurally sound. I believe that the right investor, the right developer could go in there and do something with them. They certainly should be able to do something other than tear them down, but we haven’t had anybody come forward to do that,” Miles told the council at the Parish Courthouse in Convent.

Parish government had asked Miles to take another look at the appraised value after some on the council resisted cutting the price even further last fall — to 50 percent of the old value at $1.25 million — and after an Attorney General’s Office opinion in December said the parish had to sell the property for 100 percent of appraised value.

The only way the parish can accept a lower price, the opinion says, are with another appraisal or by having other documentation showing below-appraisal bids actually reflect market value.

The Parish Council took no formal action on what to do next, instead preferring to wait on a recommendation from the parish administration.

But some council members said they are not yet ready to accept fire sale prices. Councilman Terry McCreary pressed Parish President Timmy Roussel to inquire about marketing the property nationally and to pursue a commercial real estate agent to sell the site as opposed to a standard public bid process.

McCreary said he believed the site had potential as an industrial park and said the area around the center, which is off La. 70 and near the CF Industries complex in Ascension Parish and near Donaldsonville, is booming and has seen the addition of new hotels.

“I would hate for us to give this property away because it is prime, prime commercial (property),” McCreary said.

Miles’ new appraisal actually shows an increase in land value from the first appraisal he did for the parish, rising from $990,000 to $1.53 million before the demolition discount.

That price came even as Miles outlined Wednesday some access issues to the property and noted that the old juvenile buildings largely block access to a valuable rear piece of the site that is vacant.

Earlier in the meeting, however, Roussel said he was open to doing a request for proposals to hire a commercial real estate agent. The AG’s Office opinion says the parish would have to hire the agent on an hourly rate, not on a commission basis.

Councilman Jason Amato suggested the administration aim for a Sept. 1 target date to move on the site.

Conceived years ago of as a money-making venture for St. James Parish, the one-time, multi-parish youth center closed June 30, 2013, because new state regulations would have driven up the cost to maintain the facility.

St. James Parish pays to house its local youth offenders at a detention center in nearby Assumption Parish. A parishwide 1-mill property tax once used to maintain and operate the St. James youth detention center pays for the offenders to be housed in Assumption.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter @NewsieDave.