Clock ticking for parking garage

City giving it one last shot before tearing it down

The former Harrah’s parking garage, located off Interstate 10, is covered with graffiti and vines. The 600-space garage was abandoned after Hurricane Rita in 2005. The city has left the garage standing for more than a decade in hopes an existing garage might sweeten the deal for an investor interested in developing the lakefront.

EmilyFontenotCity and Business Reporter
https://www.americanpress.com/content/tncms/avatars/9/8c/780/98c78082-3a60-11e7-bdae-8ff2c68af04e.cb04f381aa6990439a0e41185d1c27e5.png

The former Harrah’s parking garage, prominently located off Interstate 10 at the western entrance to Lake Charles, has been allowed to remain standing despite its blighted condition and unsavory reputation for over a decade while the city shopped it around.

Graffiti and vines cover the 600-space garage, abandoned after Hurricane Rita, and the police regularly respond to reports of suspicious activity there.

Lake Charles police received 40 calls over the past two years about the garage, including of people having sex and doing drugs there, of shootings, and of a “homeless camp” that formed inside, police said in a report submitted to the American Press.

Kelli Stawecki, an advocate for the local homeless population, said the garage has a bad reputation in her circle.

“I won’t feed there,” Stawecki said. “According to the homeless, a lot of bad things happen there.”

The city has left the garage standing in hopes an existing garage might sweeten the deal for an investor interested in developing the lakefront, according to City Administrator John Cardone. 

But time is running out for the garage to be repurposed before officials pull the plug and tear it down, he said on Monday.

Mayor Nic Hunter said the city plans to send out Request for Proposals regarding lakefront development in the next few months once the results of the recently commissioned CSRS study come in, allowing the city to put together an incentive package.

If it doesn’t see interest in the parking garage then, he said, the city could tear it down by the end of the year. 

“When those RFPs are received, if there is no interest in the parking lot then at that point I could support tearing it down,” Hunter said.

Hunter said an “emotional side” of him wants to tear it down right away because of the message it sends to drivers on Interstate 10. But, he said, from a financial perspective that would be unwise. 

Tearing it down would cost about $700,000, renovating would cost about $1.5 million and rebuilding it would cost around $6 million, Hunter said. 

He said it would be irresponsible to tear down the garage, still structurally sound, without giving developers another chance to put it to use — this time with economic incentives on the table.

Hunter said his administration is “very optimistic” about plans to develop the lakefront into an area that draws traffic from the interstate, and has talked with several interested investors informally since taking office in July.

He said he hopes having incentives on the table before going out for proposals — something the city hasn’t done in the past — will make all the difference in getting a proposal that becomes a reality. 

“It would be a disservice to the public to again start talking about these pie-in-the-sky projects that never materialize,” Hunter said. “That’s not what we’re going to do.” 

The city is open to “any developer that has real financial means,” but Hunter’s vision is for it to become a mixed-use area with a heavy focus on food and beverage — the key to additional sales tax revenue from the untapped I-10 market, as well as a way for the public to enjoy their lakefront, Hunter said.

“It’s been there 12 years as it is,” Hunter said. “I’m just asking the public to give me a few more months for us to make the right and the responsible decision.”

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