No good deed goes unpunished.
That was how real estate developer Pres Kabacoff ended an e-mail sent recently to New Orleans City Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell. The good deed in question was Kabacoff loaning space for a temporary 5th District police headquarters. The punishment, the real estate developer wrote, was the District D councilwoman’s choice of words at a Thursday council meeting. In approving a new temporary district station, Hedge-Morrell said that Kabacoff “evicted” the precinct.
“…The fifth district was evicted from that building, after we renovated,” she told the council. The relevant clip is below; you can see the whole debate here at the 2 hour and 54 minute mark.
Indeed, the city spent $50,000 to convert the former Universal Furniture building at 2372 St. Claude Ave. into a police station. And yes, the district is now moving to its third temporary home since hurricane Katrina. But were the police kicked out? Or did they knowingly overstay their welcome?
If you ask Kabacoff, the answer is the latter.
Construction timelines prepared by the city project a July 2011 completion for the FEMA-funded rebuilding of a permanent 5th District headquarters. In a statement to reporters, NOPD spokesman Bob Young blamed the delays on “architectural problems.” He could not say when the building, at 3900 N. Claiborne Ave., would be complete.
Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Cynthia Sylvain-Lear was more explicit in an e-mail back to Kabacoff, saying that when the city entered into the initial lease, the city planned to renovate the 5th District’s pre-Katrina building, which would have taken less time.
“As we have stated publicly many times…… During the redesign of the building, it was determined that it was greater than 50% damaged and it was subsequently demolished,” Sylvain-Lear wrote. “This unanticipated chain of events resulted in the extended need for temporary facilities.”
Neither the city nor Kabacoff provided a lease that describes the length of the arrangement, though Hedge-Morrell said the administration failed to include such details.
Kabacoff is moving forward with a much-publicized plan to turn the former furniture store into a holistic health center. He says the city always knew his timeline was definite.
City officials, he says, were “fully aware” the police station would have to move by April 1, because of a tax incentive deadline. He needs to start construction of his New Orleans Healing Center by that date in order to qualify for the incentives. The precinct, he says, moved into the St. Claude Avenue building with the intention of being done with its new home by now.
“It appears the police now need at least 2 and 1/2 years beyond their original projection to complete its permanent facility,” he wrote.
The newest temporary police digs will be inside a former meat packing plant on the corner of Bartholomew and Burgundy streets in the Bywater. That rental is only available because of another stalled project: IciNola.
IciNola was touted as the Bywater’s first luxury condo development. Thwarted by the recession and a credit-tight real estate market, it never moved forward. The police are expected to move in this month, paying a monthly rate of $8,333 a month or $100,000 annually for 10,000 square feet of office space, or $10 a square foot.
For comparison’s sake, average rates for Class B office space, similar to what the police are renting, in the Central Business District fall between $12 and $15 a square foot; Class A office space costs between $16.50 and $20 a square foot. The city is paying well above that — $22.25 per square foot or $1.3 million — for the 58,314 square feet it occupies in the Amoco Building on Poydras Street, according to city documents.
“When you think about the Bywater rates you have to take into account that this is a niche market,” said Bruce Sossaman, director of leasing for Equity Office of New Orleans. “I’ve seen offices in the middle of nowhere cost as much as office in the CBD just because there were no other options. It’s a supply and demand issue.”
That said, the 901 Bartholomew St. building hasn’t been rented since owner Shea Embry’s plan fell apart in 2008. She was so enthusiastic about getting the police department as a tenant that she embraced city officials after the council approved spending $700,000 for the police station’s expenses.
City officials did not respond to requests to explain what is covered by that cost beyond the rent.
Though city officials did not respond to a public-records request for a copy of the lease, Hedge-Morrell said it guarantees the police two years in the space with the city holding an option to renew for another two years. Under the agreement, Embry cannot kick out the police until the end of the four-year period.
“I expect them to stay longer,” Embry said in an interview on Monday. “They don’t even have bids on the construction for the new facility, and we know how the construction process can go.”
Nagin weighed in on the e-mail chain with Kabacoff, who contributed $40,000 towards the police’s renovation costs, helped them raise another $210,000 for renovation costs and did not charge the city rent.
The mayor’s opening line?
“I am not sure what happened but we really appreciate all your efforts.”