Our Views: Property sale needs thought

The proposed sale of the former site of Woman’s Hospital to East Baton Rouge city-parish government for a public safety complex could be a good thing for Baton Rouge.

We’re glad, though, that city-parish officials are taking some time to consider the idea before making the proposal a reality.

Woman’s Hospital recently moved from its campus at Airline Highway and Goodwood Boulevard to a new property near Airline Highway and Pecue Lane.

Mayor-President Kip Holden has proposed purchasing the former Woman’s Hospital site and converting it to a shared headquarters for the Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office.

The city-parish has offered $10 million for the site, with renovation costs estimated at another $10 million. As Holden recently pointed out, a bond issue put before voters called for construction of a new public safety complex at a cost of $100 million. Voters rejected that bond issue.

The much lower cost of purchasing and retooling the former Woman’s Hospital site could allow law enforcement officials to secure much-needed new accommodations at a fraction of the initially proposed cost to taxpayers. Relocating police and Sheriff’s Office headquarters to the heart of the city could be an enlightened reuse of a Baton Rouge landmark.

We commend Holden for trying to find a way with limited resources to give Baton Rouge’s key law enforcement agencies a new facility.

We admire Holden’s ambition for Baton Rouge. Recently, the Metro Council agreed to allow the city-parish to put down a $100,000 refundable deposit on the property and evaluate the site to see if it’s suitable for the city-parish’s needs. The city-parish has 150 days to evaluate the property before closing on its purchase.

We don’t know how much work would be needed to repurpose the former Woman’s Hospital site as a law enforcement complex. That’s why the period of evaluation is so important.

Since this move could affect law enforcement operations in the parish for generations, city-parish officials should think carefully about this proposed project and ask lots of questions about the practical challenges of retooling the existing site.

A key issue is determining the accuracy of the estimated renovation costs. Estimates on any construction project tend to move upward, and city-parish officials need as clear an idea as possible of the city-parish’s potential financial obligations for this project.

We’re glad Holden and the Metro Council seem to be working together as they explore this idea. We hope Sheriff Sid Gautreaux and Holden also are working closely as this idea is being considered.

Even the best ideas benefit from close scrutiny. We hope that members of the Metro Council thoroughly review this idea as it moves forward, and we hope Holden not only tolerates such questioning, but embraces it.

This proposal has lots of promise, but it deserves diligent analysis.

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