When Bobby Jindal was a young man in state government, his boss — Gov. Mike Foster — embarked on a far-sighted plan with two benefits: consolidating state offices to save money for the taxpayer over the coming decades and revitalizing downtown Baton Rouge, providing the state, as well as the city, economic and social benefits for years to come.
That lesson has apparently been lost on Jindal.
In the course of a frantic fire sale of state assets to balance the budget, two key pieces of property in downtown are to be sold. The administration and a top legislator say the sales are pretty far along, with buyers identified.
The sales, though, have occurred without any of the extensive consultation that Foster and his Division of Administration entered into with the city of Baton Rouge and the Downtown Development District. If there is any attention being paid to local priorities for the properties, it’s not apparent.
That’s the nature of a fire sale. Take the check, let somebody else plan for the consequences.
The properties are the vacant lot, formerly the site of the Insurance Department building, near the State Capitol and the 12-story state office building on Third Street at Convention Street downtown.
The old insurance building lot is located between the Capitol and the historic Spanish Town neighborhood. It was recommended for a sophisticated redevelopment project by world-renowned planner Andres Duany in the original Plan Baton Rouge, in 1998.
Jindal apparently does not do sophistication. He needs the one-time cash to help balance, precariously, the state budget in the coming fiscal year.
In a downtown, not all property is the same. These are vital parcels that can make a significant difference in downtown’s future growth.
The office building on Third Street is a prime spot for a hotel or condominium/apartment conversion, in line with the master plans that Foster’s administration helped to create.
Good things could happen to those properties, if the sales go through and the new owners recognize the value of investing in consonance with the master plan. But the administration could help that along by working with local government and the Downtown Development District.
Legislative committees must approve any potential sales, and we hope that city-parish government and the local legislative delegation appreciate the importance of redeveloping these state properties.
Working with others has unfortunately never been Jindal’s strong suit. However, he might respond to pressure from local officials and the delegation to try to get him to do right by his hometown.