Jim Bernhard, chairman and chief executive officer of The Shaw Group Inc., has purchased the downtown property on River Road that Richard Preis had long planned for his residential tower, One River Place.
Bernhard would not comment on the purchase, which he made through New Investments LLC for $3.3 million, other than to say the 55,000 square feet of riverfront property between Lafayette and Main streets represents a chance for him to invest in the future of Baton Rouge and Louisiana.
Other properties on the block are a residence on Main Street and Azteca’s Mexican Cuisine at Lafayette and Main. Architect Trey Trahan owns the undeveloped southern portion of the block and is reported to be involved in plans for the development of the site, though Trahan did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Preis, who recently completed his involvement in the nearby Hampton Inn and Suites across Lafayette Street, said the offer to buy the property at market rate came last month. He and business partner Joe Traigle agreed they’d be willing to sell if a cash deal could close by the end of the year, for tax purposes.
“It was the right price and the right person, who has a high energy level for downtown, as I do,” Preis said. “It was a good buy and a good sell. And I come from an old school, where that’s how it should happen.”
Preis said he still believes in riverfront development downtown, noting when he announced One River Place a decade ago it was because Baton Rouge was one of the largest cities on the Mississippi River that didn’t have residential development along the waterfront.
As he has noted in the past, Preis said Hurricane Katrina and the financial crisis hamstrung his efforts to get his 17-story office and condo tower developed.
Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, said the DDD welcomes the purchase and any development that might come from it.
“Obviously, we are excited about this investment in downtown Baton Rouge,” Rhorer said. “This piece of property is a prime piece of real estate on the river and is primed for future development. We’re happy to work with developers as the project might move forward.”