The Old Federal Courthouse in Downtown has languished unoccupied for about 10 years now. Last year, a team of consultants advised the city to do something with the property, warning that it had become a “monument of indecision” — words now stenciled in polite graffiti on the courthouse door. Now, five groups have thrown their hats into the ring to redevelop it, responding to the city’s call for credentials. The projects and players range in ambition and notoriety. One idea would add 135 new residences to the district. Below are the responses and some overviews.
- JCH Properties and KCT Real Estate Ventures, both of New Orleans, lead a team of five well-established regional names in the architecture and development space, including Lafayette’s own Architects Southwest. Curiously, the response suggests creating a special taxing district, with a 2 percent sales tax and a hotel tax, to fund Downtown projects. Theoretically, the Downtown Development Authority already plays that role.
- Wisznia, SO Architects, Lemoine Company pitch two linked projects: The Federal House and The Federal Market. It’s an adaptive reuse project with mixed-income living and a big residential footprint (135 units in total). A hook in their proposal is a culinary arts incubator.
- Place de Lafayette, Dyke Nelson Architecture brings to bear familiar Downtown developers, including the team behind the Tribune Printing Press redevelopment that houses French Press and Hub City Cycles. Their concept delivers 68 residential units in three buildings using some of the existing structures on the site.
- HRI Properties is the only entrant without a local partner. The New Orleans-based developer and contractor has extensive hotel construction experience with Hyatt. Its vision includes the construction of a community theater that would house a relocated Cite des Arts, 40 apartments and a culinary institute.
- Community Foundation of Acadiana admits that it is “not readily capable of assuming a project of this magnitude” in its response, but nevertheless enters the fray. Indeed, CFA has no relevant experience, although other community foundations (see Baton Rouge Area Foundation) have done a lot in the revitalization space. CFA’s entry is vague beyond the suggestion that it would target building mixed-use development.
While this is the most concrete movement we’ve seen on the Old Federal Courthouse in some time, it’s far from a done deal that redevelopment will go through. The “courthouse gang” that has lobbied for a new parish courthouse at this site still holds tremendous political sway. The City-Parish Council needs to vote to sell the property, and it’s not a foregone conclusion that the move would pass. That would require some lobbying from the mayor, who didn’t mention the project during the Robideaux Report and has other matters requiring political capital.
Downtown is short on available sewer capacity. That could limit the scale of residential development in the district without significant upgrades.