AP News

La. property valued at $2M less than expected

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to sell property across from the Louisiana Capitol has hit some snags, including a recent appraisal that valued the site more than $2 million less than Jindal expected to generate for the state budget.

The latest valuation for the site of the former insurance building in downtown Baton Rouge, an appraisal done for the governor's Office of Facility Planning and Control, came in at $2.8 million — well below the $5 million the Jindal administration anticipated. It also was lower than a previous $4.9 million appraisal.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers are expressing reservations about selling the prime real estate so close Louisiana's historic Art Deco capitol building to private investors rather than using it for government office space.

The House and Senate natural resources committees are scheduled to discuss the land sale next week, on Nov. 9. But the chairman of the Senate committee, Sen. Gerald Long, said Thursday he's not sure if lawmakers will vote because of a list of outstanding questions and concerns.

"It's highly controversial," Long said.

"For Sale" signs can't be placed on the property until the committees agree to the land sale.

Michael DiResto, spokesman for the governor's Division of Administration, said in a statement that the office disagrees with the second appraisal because it wasn't thorough and undervalued the property. A third valuation is being done.

The site of the former insurance building now contains a two-level parking structure, doled out to state employees and lobbyists during legislative sessions. The Department of Insurance built another office in a different location nearby, and the old building was imploded.

"It's certainly not in the taxpayer interest for state government to hold onto property that's being underutilized, and our goal (is to) return it to productive use while getting the highest possible return on the sale," DiResto said Thursday.

Over the years, lawmakers and former governors' administrations have proposed various ideas for using the land, such as creating legislative offices or relocating other state offices to a new building that could be constructed there.

During the last legislative session, even as they approved spending the money from sale of the old insurance building property, lawmakers also unanimously backed a resolution urging the Jindal administration to transfer the property to the Legislature for office space.

Sen. Ed Murray, who sponsored the resolution, said that the legislative auditor needs more workspace and that moving the auditor's office from the state appeals court building in Baton Rouge would also free up offices for the court, which he described as "cramped."

Murray has been added to the Senate Natural Resources Committee as an interim member because of his concerns. He said he hasn't looked through the appraisals yet and hasn't talked to the Jindal administration about the governor's proposal. But he hasn't changed his position.

"I still do think it would be appropriate to use that property for government," he said. "I don't think it should go to the private sector."

Long said he hasn't decided whether the state should sell the land and was waiting to hear more details from the Jindal administration and critics of the sale. He said the differing appraisals likely would create even more questions for lawmakers considering the idea.

"I would not be surprised if a vote is not taken" at the Nov. 9 meeting, he said.

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