'A Vain And Useless Act': St. James Parish Considers Private Sale Of Youth Center After Public Bids Flounder

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ST. JAMES — St. James Parish government is weighing again how to sell the defunct St. James Youth Center more than four years after the former juvenile facility was shuttered and failed to garner much interest from buyers despite repeated price cuts.

Armed with an opinion from the state Attorney General's Office that opens the door to a private, below-appraisal sale, parish officials are reviewing their options before they decide whether to put the complex located at the foot of the Sunshine Bridge back on the sales block, parish officials said.

Once a multiparish operation for juvenile offenders, the St. James Youth Center closed June 30, 2013, after stiffer state standards for juvenile detention centers took effect, which parish officials said made the center too costly to run.

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The Youth Center was originally conceived and built as a money-making venture by earning revenue for parish government from handling other parishes' juvenile offenders, including those from neighboring Ascension and Assumption parishes.  

St. James Parish President Timmy Roussel said Monday the parish has several interested buyers for the complex off La. 70: two investor groups looking to turn it into an adult rehabilitation center, an investor group led by Guillot Realty, of Donaldsonville, and River Parishes Community College in Gonzales. 

Roussel said the community college, which is working with Louisiana Economic Development, might want to use the center for a training facility.

Parish Attorney Cody Martin is still reviewing the exact method the parish should use to put the Youth Center up for sale.


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Roussel was hopeful that the Parish Council might have something to consider in November on the sale's process but now says he expects it will be taken up by the council sometime in December. 

Earlier in November, Martin laid out a process in which the Parish Council could put the property up for a private sale — possibly through a real estate agent — and then vote whether an offered price represented the fair market value.

Martin said the attorney general's opinion gave the parish the "green light" for such a sale in light of its previous trouble selling the complex for the appraised price through the public bid process. 

The parish has put the complex out for public bid six times since it was closed, cut the price multiple times but has only received one offer.

That one bid in February 2016 was below a reappraised price of $1.28 million — down from the original appraised price of $2.5 million — and the council could not accept the offer because it was below the appraised value.

Since that last public bid process, that bidder has made an offer of $1.2 million, which the attorney general's opinion says was equal to or greater than earlier public bid. No decision has been made on that bid.

In using the public bid process, the parish was following one legally mandated for municipalities but only recommended by the Attorney General's Office for parishes as a matter of good public policy. But when the parish decided to use the bid process, it meant it could not accept a bid for below the appraised value.

The August 2016 attorney general's opinion to St. James Parish, however, notes that no law requires that a parish government follow the public bid process and that parishes can accept an offer below the appraised value if market forces dictate that the value isn't what an appraisal says it should be. 

The opinion added that the repeat public bid offerings for the Youth Center have put the public on notice and allowed competitive bidding to occur. 

"The initiation of another public bid process would indeed appear to be a vain and useless act," the opinion from Assistant Attorney General Chester Cedars says.

In May , the Parish Council lowered the minimum price for the complex to $1.2 million, matching that offer from more than a year earlier. Martin has recommended that the parish use that figure as the list price in any private sales offer.

The opinion notes that the parish assessor says $1.2 million is, in his view, the fair market value of the complex while parish government's own paid auditor says the acceptance of an offer below the appraised value also would be justified.  

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Source : http://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_eeb5eda2-d386-11e7-94fb-dbca881fae99.html

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