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Three connected office buildings and two parking lots in the middle of downtown Baton Rouge have been sold for an undisclosed sum to a group of New Orleans investors.

The properties include the seven-story State National Life Insurance building at 263 Third St. and two connecting buildings at 244 Lafayette St. and 224 Florida. A parking lot at the corner of Florida and Lafayette and a lot on Third, behind the State National Life building, were also part of the deal. 

The buyer was 263 Third LLC, which is an entity of Watson Cohen Realty. The seller was Dean Building Holdings and Dean Offices, two entities headed by downtown property owner Bob Dean.

Jim Allen, an agent with Saurage Rotenberg Commercial Real Estate, brokered the deal.

Jeremy Watson and Jarrett Cohen are the managing partners of Watson Cohen. Cohen said the deal is sort of a homecoming because he graduated from LSU and worked for the commercial real estate firm of Kurz & Hebert. “We're really excited to be a player in downtown,” Watson said. “We see this as an opportunity to contribute.”

Watson Cohen is involved in the redevelopment of 714 Canal St. in New Orleans.

The sale price for the Baton Rouge properties was recorded as $1,000 and “other good and valuable considerations.” The parcel had been for sale for several years; most recently it had an asking price of $7.7 million.

According to marketing materials, the properties have a combined total of 92,200 square feet, while the parking lots are just over 19,000 square feet. The properties had been marketed as being ideal for conversion to a hotel, restaurant or multifamily housing.

The redevelopment plans are still being determined, Watson and Cohen said. Their main goal right now is to take care of the current tenants, who are mainly located on the ground floor of the buildings.

Because Dean had been trying to sell the properties for several years, he let a lot of the leases expire, since he didn’t want to saddle potential buyers with tenants, Watson said.

“We’re still wrapping our heads around the conditions,” he said. “We’re not yet able to disclose our full plans.”

Plans are to use federal and state tax credits to help cover with the redevelopment costs. The State National Life building, the largest of the three properties, qualifies for a range of credits, including a five-year property tax abatement.  

Gabe Vicknair, assistant executive director of the Downtown Development District, said the sale of the buildings shows that investments in downtown are still happening, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“I would expect the steady demand for downtown residential to factor into the future uses of the building, but think ground floor retail and large office spaces should also be components of the plans,” he said.  

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