Plans for Lafayette’s Lesspay Motel, old courthouse inching slowly forward _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BRYAN TUCK -- The Lesspay Motel is located at the intersection of Cameron Street and University Avenue Tuesday in Lafayette.

A plan to replace a troubled motel in the Four Corners area with a police substation and to transform the site of the old federal courthouse into a mixed-use downtown development is inching forward, but not exactly how City-Parish President Joey Durel had envisioned.

Durel asked the City-Parish Council on Tuesday to sign off on the rough outline of a proposal to have another group tear down the Lesspay Motel at the intersection of University Avenue and Cameron Street and build a police substation in its place.

In return, city-parish government would give that group the old federal courthouse and two adjacent city-owned buildings, allowing the group to recoup the money spent at Four Corners by redeveloping the courthouse site into residential and commercial space.

The council rejected the trade as proposed by Durel but agreed in general to redeveloping the two sites.

They voted unanimously to move forward with negotiations to buy the Lesspay Motel, with the understanding the administration will return later with a separate proposal related to the redevelopment of the courthouse site.

The administration would still need council approval for the purchase of the motel, if negotiations are fruitful.

“Everybody has agreed the Lesspay Motel has got to go,” said Councilman Brandon Shelvin, who represents the area. “That area has been plagued for many years with high crime activity.”

Durel said he is OK with the revised strategy.

“They are both going to get done. They are both high, high priorities,” he said.

The council’s action came after more than an hour of often contentious debate during which several council members objected to tying the two redevelopment issues together and to handing over the old federal courthouse to an outside group, the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority.

The LPTFA is a self-supporting public agency that makes money through investments and financing and uses the proceeds to support public projects.

The revitalization of Four Corners and the redevelopment of the long-vacant old federal courthouse site have been discussed for several years.

“If all we did was level them, we would be doing something better for the community than what we are doing today,” said Councilman Don Bertrand, referring to the courthouse and the motel.

While the council seemed to support both redevelopment projects in principle, some members questioned giving the old courthouse site to the LPTFA and wanted instead to explore whether city-parish government could simply sell the property directly to private developers.

“I don’t believe in just giving something away,” said Councilman Kevin Naquin.

Durel argued that working with the LPTFA would allow both areas to be redeveloped without using any tax money, and the debate went south during a back-and-forth between Durel and Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux.

Durel at one point told Boudreaux that “I appreciate your warped way of looking at things” and then, speaking to the council in general, said, “Y’all have blown money before, y’all can blow money on that.”

A more sober tone returned following comments from Downtown Development Authority CEO Nathan Norris, who steered the discussion back to the possibility of breaking the link between the old federal courthouse project and Four Corners.

The redevelopment of the courthouse site has been a top priority for DDA, a project Norris said is badly needed to bring more quality residential space to downtown.

“We just want to get it done,” he said, commenting that DDA had no preference for whether the LPTFA or city-parish government takes the lead.

Still, the future of the courthouse project is not clear after Tuesday’s meeting.

The general understanding among the administration and council as of Tuesday night is that the administration will bring a separate proposal to the council in the near future addressing the redevelopment of the old federal courthouse site.

City-parish government bought the building from the federal government in 2001 for $800,000 after the completion of the new federal courthouse a few blocks away on Lafayette Street.

The old courthouse has sat largely empty since then, with the exception of a few city-parish employees who worked out of a small office on the first floor until 2009.

Early plans to renovate the old courthouse for office space fell through because of the expense.

Another plan four years ago to demolish the building to clear the way for private development fell through after some City-Parish Council members questioned whether the site could be the home for a new parish courthouse.