State selling property to help balance budget

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU --  Businessman Eugene Ji poses for a portrait in front of Wooddale Towers in Baton Rouge on Friday. Ji is in the final stages of purchasing the empty office building from the state. The property is one of several the state needs to sell in order to balance the state budget.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- Businessman Eugene Ji poses for a portrait in front of Wooddale Towers in Baton Rouge on Friday. Ji is in the final stages of purchasing the empty office building from the state. The property is one of several the state needs to sell in order to balance the state budget.

Covered with plywood to deter looters, the front door to Wooddale Towers stood open Friday morning, allowing fresh air and sunlight to drift into the darkened building.

Workers carted away security system parts and anything else stamped with a state government inventory tag while Baton Rouge developer Eugene Ji kept a wary eye on the proceedings.

Once a payment of $350,000 is made, Ji will become the new owner of the 12-story Baton Rouge office building that the state vacated in 2011. He plans to use the first two floors for his new company, G2 Development LLC, which raises money to invest in clean energy, and find occupants for the other floors.

“Just give them the check, that’s all,” he said about the sale’s status.

By purchasing the building, Ji will put empty office space off Florida Boulevard back into commerce. By selling the building, state government no longer will have to pay the electric bill or come by periodically to pull down the fire alarm in order to ferret out possible squatters.

The transaction also will impact the state budget.

The $25.4 billion state spending plan for the fiscal year that began this month relies on several pieces of state property changing hands. Wooddale Towers is just one of the puzzle pieces used to assemble dollars for health care, education and other public services.

The state wants to sell:

Also for sale — but not included in the state budget — are a 12,000-square-foot brick dormitory in Shreveport, a two-story building on the campus of an old Monroe hospital, a hospital building in Thibodaux and a vacant residential complex in Belle Chase.

Less than 30 days into the new state budget year, the Jindal administration said paperwork is being finalized on the sale of Wooddale while details are being worked out on other properties.

EuroChem, a Russian fertilizer company, is considering the Iberville Parish property for a $1.5 billion plant. The state has used the land to graze cattle and harvest pecans.

Legislation calls for St. Tammany Parish government to purchase the remaining 526 acres at Southeast Louisiana Hospital. The state ended management of the psychiatric hospital last year, turning it over to a private company.

Ronnie Simpson, spokesman for St. Tammany Parish government, said parish officials are waiting for a full appraisal of the property before moving forward with the purchase.

The Jindal administration said multiple parties are interested in the state office building and parking garage in downtown Baton Rouge.

“It makes sense to look at opportunities to sell or lease property underutilized by the state so that it can be returned to a more productive use and generate savings for Louisiana that can be re-invested in services to taxpayers,” Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols said in a prepared statement.

Ji said he plans to renovate Wooddale Towers once he assumes ownership. The state purchased the building for $1.875 million in 1990 and lowered the asking price before Ji stepped forward to buy it.

The developer said he is trying to build interest for new technology that uses natural gas to produce electricity, power a city bus and keep the air conditioner blowing during a power outage. The challenge, he said, is to raise money for the venture.

Ji also needs to fill up empty floors at Wooddale Towers.

“We already have people talking to us about putting a film school, a nursing school or a private international high school into our building. Any of the above ... will create hundreds of jobs,” he said. “We shall see.”