St. James again cuts asking price for detention center

For a second time in less than two months, the St. James Parish Council cut the asking price for its shuttered juvenile detention center near Donaldsonville.

The council agreed Wednesday, 5-0, to reduce the price to 65 percent of the $2.5 million appraised value, or $1.625 million, and re-advertise for bids. Councilmen Ken Brass and Charles Ketchens were absent Wednesday.

The council received no bids for the complex last month after an earlier price cut to $1.87 million.

Known as the St. James Youth Center, the complex off La. 70 and within sight of the Sunshine Bridge once served as a multi-parish juvenile detention facility operated by the parish. The center closed June 30, 2013, because new state regulations drove up the maintenance and operating costs.

The council received no bids for the full price back in May, prompting the earlier price cut to 75 percent of appraised value. State law required the parish to list property first at 100 percent of its appraised market value.

Parish President Timmy Roussel said the parish has two parties interested but one of them wants to lease the center.

“If we were to go to a leasing proposition, we would have to go out to bids also,” he said.

In May, when the council originally had cut the asking price, the council had planned to cut the price to 50 percent of appraised value if further reductions were necessary.

But Roussel said some on the council wanted to go to 65 percent of appraised value first, or $1.625 million.

Councilman James Brazan said in an interview Wednesday that he was one who wanted the higher asking price.

Brazan said the parish sold a hospital at a reduced price and has not seen anything happen with the facility. He said he did not want to see greatly reduced prices invite speculators who might not make use of the center.

When it was built years ago, the center was conceived as a money-making venture for the parish. The parish now pays for its juvenile offenders to be housed at a detention center in Assumption Parish, using from funds from a parish-wide $1 million property tax that was once used to maintain and operate the closed youth center.

In other action, the council adopted a resolution recognizing the settlement of Freetown on the west bank of the parish.

The long-standing community emerged from former plantation land in the St. James area shortly after the Civil War.

Freetown is believed to be the parish’s first multi-ethnic settlement and is home to leading members of the parish’s black community.

Roussel said Freetown is getting a state historical marker after more than five years of research by Vacherie resident Shandra Smith. She said one of her ancestors was among original founders of the settlement.

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter at @NewsieDave.