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|Walsworth objects to Delta deal|
Rep. Mike Walsworth isn't happy with the Ouachita Economic Development Corporation's decision to sell the old State Farm Insurance office building near Interstate 20 to the state for a new location for Delta Community College.
Walsworth also isn't pleased with the state's plans to raze the old State Farm structure for the construction of a new facility for the community college.
"That's just hard for me to swallow," said Walsworth, R-West Monroe. "I'm not sure that's the most prudent thing to do."
Earlier this week, Gov. Kathleen Blanco announced that the state had reached an agreement to buy the State Farm building from the OEDC, which took ownership of the building as a gift from State Farm after the insurance conglomerate withdrew its corporate presence in northeast Louisiana. State Farm's departure cost the region more than 1,000 jobs.
The OEDC had been negotiating with the state for months over the sale of the State Farm site. The OEDC originally sought about $13 million for the 315,000-square-foot office building and property.
Walsworth believes the state "got one heck of a deal" when it paid OEDC roughly $3 million for the State Farm site, meaning the state paid the OEDC far too little money.
Meanwhile, state officials said demolition of the State Farm facility could begin this fall.
"The state basically got a 300,000-square-foot building for free," Walsworth said. "The $3 million was what the land was worth."
While acknowledging Delta Community College needs a new location and a new facility to accommodate its growing enrollment, Walsworth thinks the state could have marketed the building and attracted a private sector business to utilize the building and its location, providing private sector jobs for the Monroe/West Monroe economy.
"I want to at least try to find private sector jobs for that building," said Walsworth, noting that's what could happen within the next 90 days.
"The Louisiana Economic Development Corporation has the ability to go out and market the building to house some private sector jobs," Walsworth said. "The state could do a better job in that regard."
"That's not a slap at the OEDC, but the OEDC never really had the opportunity to market the building itself," Walsworth added.
He pointed out that the OEDC took possession of the State Farm building just days before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. Thousands of people fled southeast Louisiana. Many of them landed at the State Farm building where the Red Cross operated an evacuation shelter.
"These three things we know are a done deal," Walsworth continued. "No. 1, the OEDC is getting $3 million from selling the old State Farm property to the state. No. 2, the state now owns the property, and No. 3, the state has committed to building a brand-new community college facility in Monroe."
Walsworth said it's possible that a private enterprise concern could emerge that would be interested in using the old State Farm building to house its business.
If that happened, the state would be faced with deciding whether to use the State Farm site for Delta Community College or offer the facility to a company that could possibly bring hundreds of new jobs to Ouachita Parish.
"This governor is about jobs, and she's committed to bringing new jobs to northeast Louisiana," Walsworth said. "If she can find jobs to place in that facility, I don't think anyone will stand in our way to do just that."
If that scenario played out, Walsworth indicated that the state would look for another site to build a new facility for the community college.
"That's the absolute best-case scenario, and it's entirely possible that that chain of events could play out," Walsworth said.
Walsworth isn't alone in objecting to the OEDC's deal with the state.
West Monroe Mayor Dave Norris has stated publicly that he believes a private enterprise concern can be recruited to utilize the State Farm building.
Also, sources close to Michael Olivier, secretary of the Louisiana Economic Development Corp., say Olivier opposed Blanco's decision to buy old State Farm building for a location for Delta Community College.
Rep. Kay Katz is satisfied that it would appear the community college's needs will be met by moving to the old State Farm location.
"I'm just glad to get this issue behind us," said Katz, R-Monroe, referring to the state's plans to build a new facility for the community college at the State Farm location.
"I think it's a win-win situation for everyone involved," Katz said.