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Lake Charles awaits lakefront offers

Last Modified: Monday, June 30, 2014 12:55 PM

By Justin B. Phillips / American Press

Lake Charles will soon welcome a new developer as officials continue to search for a way to use one of the area’s prized commodities — lakefront property. The land once associated with Mardi Gras Boardwalk is again the center of attention as the city gets ready to enter into an interview process with two real estate marketing and development companies. The interviews are just one step in a process that has gained momentum over the last few months.

Discussions about the property increased in late February after Mardi Gras Boardwalk submitted a status report to the city. Tied into the report’s lists of interested hotels and restaurants was a request for a 120-day extension on the original master plan timetable. The request drew some ire from City Council members as their patience with the project began to wear thin. Councilman Rodney Geyen was one of the more vocal members, evident in his comments during a regular council meeting in late February.

“I think they’ve had enough time to do all that they needed to do in planning and financing,” Geyen said. “I’m in full favor of opening it up again for advertising as far as our lakefront development is concerned. We’ve waited a long time, and we may have prohibited other people from making offers.”

In April, the city took a step in starting a new chapter on the lakefront by issuing a request for qualifications from marketing firms interested in the property. The deadline for the interested parties to submit their qualifications was May 30 and two companies ended up responding — Ehmpire LLC and CBRE Inc.

The actual interview process will start toward the middle of July and will be conducted by a board of city officials. The board includes City Administrator John Cardone, Lake Charles downtown development executive director Lori Marinovich, Downtown Development Authority board member Jonald Walker and former DDA Chairman Rick Richard. Three council members will also serve on the board, including council President Luvertha August, council Vice President Stuart Weatherford, and councilwoman Mary Morris, whose district includes the undeveloped tracts of lakefront property.

Ehmpire LLC’s home office is in San Diego, with other offices spread across the country. The company’s principal lines of business are architecture, planning and sustainable design. Ehmpire LLC is a minority-owned company with the chief financial officer being Grace Mendoza-Ehm.

In a packet of information sent to city officials, the company outlined its history, recent projects and qualifications.

“Founded in 1987, our service on over 1,600 diverse projects, including many hospitality, commercial and residential developments and several high-profile waterfront projects, has given us broad experience in architecture which places us well ahead of our contemporaries,” Ehmpire LLC said in the “firm history” section of its submitted packet.

The projects highlighted in the qualifications section include a Marriott Hotel in Port Angeles, Wash. Designed in response to a request by the city for a waterfront hotel and convention center, the project “features a four-story, 175-room full-service hotel with 10,000 square foot ballroom, 6.000 square feet of conference space, a full-service restaurant with lounge and an indoor pool. The existing on site pier will be expanded for boat and float plane moorage, taking advantage of the site’s proximity to the Strait of Juan deFuca, the San Juan Islands, Seattle and Victoria, British Columbia.”

The second developer city officials will be getting to know is CBRE Inc., whose headquarters is in Los Angeles, with other offices across the country. The firm’s history goes all the way back to the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. After the earthquake, the company provided real estate services for local businesses.

In a letter to city officials accompanying its information packet submission, the firm talks about what it can do to help Lake Charles develop the lakefront property.

“CBRE has a strong track record assisting municipal clients around the country on complex development projects, including lakefront property. We bring a team of experts,including in office, retail, hotel, multifamily housing, and public institutions, that will help guide the City through its redevelopment process,” the company says in the letter.

One of the company’s notable projects listed in the packet was a collaboration with the city of Indianapolis. CBRE served as a development adviser for the city on the redevelopment of a 1.5-acre city-owned downtown site. The goal of the project was to spur economic development in the district. Indianapolis’ downtown fire station, fire department headquarters and an affiliated firefighters credit union were located on the site CBRE was attempting to develop. The buildings were considered by the city to be dividers between the two vital north and south commercial corridors.

The company also oversaw the city’s request for proposals regarding the downtown area in need of redevelopment. Some of the results of the project included the city finding a development team that would end up investing “close to 50 million for 235 high-end apartments, 40,000 square feet of ground-level retail and over 300 parking spaces mostly underground,” all based on the recommendation of CBRE.

The company also led the site selection for the new fire department headquarters, new fire station and relocated firefighters credit union. CBRE then assisted the city in the negotiations and acquisition of the existing campus of the American Red Cross of Greater Indianapolis and helped relocated the Red Cross to another facility in the downtown area.

Near the middle of July, the board tasked with scouring the information provided by the companies will continue the RFQ process. Mayor Randy Roach will also conduct interviews with the companies once the process picks back up.

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