Opelousas board OKs housing development, hotel financing

The Opelousas Board of Aldermen Monday night passed separate resolutions that cleared the way for a housing development on property previously owned by the city and a tax increment funding district for a Hampton Hotel along Interstate 49.

John Lamke, the city’s director of economic development, told the board that Olympia Investment Partnership, a private corporation, intends to purchase a nine-acre tract along Cherry Street from the city for $250,000 to develop a residential area that includes 30 single-family homes.

In order to meet an Aug. 31 deadline that would qualify the company for grant funding to help finance the project, Lamke said the board needed to act at Monday’s meeting.

He said the 9-acre tract is part of a 17-acre tract originally bought by the city for $200,000.

Yvonne Normand, chairman of a board-approved commission that developed a master plan for a municipal park on part of the 17-acre tract, said the proposed housing development will be adjacent to donated land set aside for a sports complex.

The housing development will also include some land the city initially intended to use for the park, Normand said. The sports complex is part of the municipal park.

“We are not in favor of (the housing development). We are asking that you keep (the property) as a sports park,” Normand said.

Alderman Julius Alsandor asked Normand if having 30 homes on the property would benefit residents.

Normand said the sports complex, which would include baseball and soccer fields, would help youths. She also told Alsandor that there is plenty of land available in the city to build residences.

Voting to approve the resolution were Alsandor, Louis Butler, Jr., and Jacqueline Martin. Joe Charles and Blair Briggs voted no. Reginald Tatum abstained.

TIF DISTRICT: In another matter, Dannie P. Garrett III and Sunny Desai, representing the Desai Hotel Group, asked the board to create a TIF district to help finance part of the estimated $6 million associated with hotel’s infrastructure, such as paving the parking lot and exterior lighting.

The special taxing districts are used to help spur development because tax revenue generated by a new development is used to pay back the money used to build the development or the infrastructure needed to attract it.

Once the TIF was established, Garrett, a Baton Rouge lawyer, said the city would seek a private lender to guarantee a maximum of $1 million in public bond money to fund the infrastructure costs.

Garrett said the city’s obligation for the bond money would be repaid by an extra 2.2 percent tax charged to the hotel’s occupants once operation began.

“Once the bonds are paid off, then the additional revenue from the hotel occupancy comes back (to the city),” Garrett said.

Briggs said he felt that TIF areas are used more for blighted properties and rural development. He said other hotels built along the same I-49 corridor within the city limits did not receive the same treatment as Desai’s project.

Mayor Donald Cravins Sr., said TIFs have been approved by other public bodies in neighboring parishes, especially those bordering I-49.

Opelousas businessman Pat Fontenot said the bond obligation of the city in connection with the hotel is unlike a general obligation bond, where the city would begin paying on the bond immediately.

“If the project fails, the bank will be holding the bonds and not the city,” Fontenot said.

After passage of the resolution, the board also passed another motion that introduced an ordinance which dedicates the hotel sales tax specifically within the TIF area to repay the bonds.

Approving the resolution and the ordinance introduction were Charles, Alsandor, Butler, Tatum and Martin. Briggs voted against both the ordinance and the resolution.