Facing deadline, City Court move stalled by costly renovation

Lemoine Building on Jefferson Street
The Lemoine Building at 214 Jefferson Street may be the new home of Lafayette City Court, though a costly renovation threatens to derail that plan. Photo by Travis Gauthier

Exiting Mayor-President Josh Guillory’s bid to relocate City Court to make way for a 200-unit mixed-use complex has stalled ahead of a Friday deadline as a costly renovation threatens the project’s viability. 

Lafayette Consolidated Government currently has until Friday to commit to purchasing the Lemoine Building Downtown at its long-standing list price of $6.2 million. But City Council members are hesitant to commit to the purchase since the estimated $9.6 million renovation puts its total cost at around $15.8 million, well above the $9.5 million approved by the council earlier this year.

The renovation includes replacing the building’s heating and air system and its roof, plus waterproofing the exterior and completely redesigning the interior, which would not preserve the layout of the former bankruptcy court there, according to the project’s architect, Eric Crozier of ACSW Architects.

Related: Column: Why are we tearing down a functioning city courthouse? 

“I think the original budget was probably, let’s say, a little unrealistic to some extent, but there was certainly a scope of work that we’ve got to right-size back, so we’ve got to find the balance of the scope and the cost and try to bring those things together,” Crozier told the council at Tuesday’s meeting. 

Council members have been supportive, if skeptical, of Guillory’s plan to relocate City Court, which would allow the departing M-P to realize a deal with Rock ’N’ Bowl owner Johnny Blancher to redevelop the existing City Court campus on Convent Street into a 200-unit mixed-use complex, adding to Downtown’s supply of housing and public parking. 

But Friday’s deadline marks the end of a 90-day due diligence period for LCG to spec out the Lemoine Building’s potential to house City Court, and without an extension LCG must make a decision on paying $6.2 million for the building, which appraised at $8.6 million in November. The major renovation cost makes that a tough sell without a clearer plan, City Councilwoman Nanette Cook said Tuesday.

“These are great projects. I want to go on the record and say that I like the idea…[But] there’s some unknowns there, so I feel like before we take the leap and move everything in there, we need to know a little bit better in terms of our costs, because I think there’s going to be some costs on the other end of this project as well,” she said. 

The council may look to other partners to help fund the relocation, Cook suggested, including the City Court judges, the Downtown Development Authority and the special sales tax district that was created for Downtown in 2019, though none has substantial funds available to finance the renovation. 

Cook asked Guillory’s administration to seek another 60 days to finalize the purchase, and Guillory said he would ask the seller about an extension Wednesday. But even two more months may not be enough time to finalize more affordable plans to renovate the building because of the upcoming holidays, said Crozier, who called the idea a “pretty big lift.” 

Pushing the deal back would also open a new can of worms for the project, as three new members will be seated on the City Council in January alongside incoming M-P Monique Blanco Boulet. That would put the decision to buy the Lemoine Building and plans to fund its renovation into almost entirely new hands come January. 

With or without the extension, the project may not be viable, as the Lemoine Building’s renovation costs alone exceed the funding already approved by the council for the court’s relocation. As it stands, the plan isn’t where it needs to be to justify buying the building this week, according to Cook. 

“I don’t think we’re there yet,” she said. “I don’t think we’re able to move forward and say, ‘Ok, Friday, let’s go ahead and just buy the building.’ I just don’t feel comfortable with us doing that at this point.”