New Orleans City Council focuses on future of vacant lot in Sheriff’s Office construction plans

The future of a vacant city block between two Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office facilities that are under construction was a key discussion point Wednesday as Sheriff Marlin Gusman gave the City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee an update on the work.

It was the first time any public discussion has been held about the land, which could possibly be the site of a third OPSO building. Councilwoman Susan Guidry brought up the topic after she read from a letter between Gusman and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin.

According to Guidry, the letter states that the third building could have 700 beds but could be reduced to 650, still well above the total number of beds the ordinance allows.

The City Council, passed an ordinance limiting the number of jail beds in the city to 1,438, preventing any future construction without its approval.

The limit on the total number of jail beds in the city has been a politically sensitive issue, with some demanding that the figure not be increased for any reason.

The vacant lot sits on city-owned land between a $74 million warehouse and kitchen building and a $134 million jail and administration building, both of which are under construction on Perdido Street between South Salcedo and South White streets.

Gusman said any discussions about a third building are “very conceptual” and that nothing “firm” has been decided.

The potential third building would be a medical and health facility, architect Jerry Hebert said.

City Council Vice President Jackie Clarkson said she supported the idea of a third building designed to properly serve inmates’ health needs.

“We have to have another building,” Clarkson told Gusman. “I’m still very concerned we’re not doing right for the mental health part. ... Please include us on anything we can help with on planning.”

“It’s probably an opportunity that would be missed if the city does not take advantage of building a medical mental health true unit with the FEMA dollars that are available, because I think it’s really needed,” Hebert said.

Guidry said discussion about the possibility should happen as soon as possible if the building is needed.

“One way or another, something has to be done with that block,” Guidry said.