LC City Council rejects Cypress Lakefront proposal

By Lee Peck - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - After seeing their proposal for a mixed-use development the Lake Charles City Council was prepared to make a final decision on whether to enter into a land lease agreement with developer Cypress Group - as recommended by the Downtown Development Authority.

"I want to remind council that this development is one of the many that the City of Lake Charles will be entertaining over the next several years and decades," said DDA Chairman Adley Cormier.

Taking the stage, Cypress Group looked to close the deal: "I'm here to answer any of your questions," said Chris Rinaudo, Cypress Group developer.

Most of the questions centered around Cypress Group's dependence on HUD financing and the phased in approach. Phase one including 150 apartments, 54-thousand square feet of retail space and a partially exposed parking garage.

"We would need to do is leave the back end of that garage where we can attach on to it in the future. We would build the other apartments around it eventually," explained Rinaudo.

"But what if you don't get to that phase - it's against smart code," said Councilman Dana Jackson.

With market forces entering the picture, Cormier says it's perfectly in line with smart code.

"Rome was not built in a day," said Cormier. "The actual garage is constructed in Phase one. We may not be able to complete the liner buildings but that the term until Phase two of Cypress Group's plan."

"The first plans given out - it was a Metro Goldwyn Mayer production and now we are stuck with a moderate budge movie. It's not that epic anymore," said Councilwoman Luvertha August.

August is concerned why the process wasn't reopened for other developers when the plans were scaled down.

"This has been a very open process," said Cormier. "It really is a real estate transaction. We have to allow business to actually proceed in a business like fashion."

"But as an elected official, you don't know the number of complaints I'm getting about how either slow things are going or why we are sticking with something we didn't originally agree with," said August.

Some of those citizens voicing their concerns at Wednesday night's meeting.

"The people are very, very upset. You are losing support for what is going on downtown. It's just a laughing stock. In this town right now it is just a joke."

Under pressure by their constituents it was clear where the votes were coming and going.

"The total plan - building moderate housing on the most valuable property in Calcasieu Parish - I just don't understand it. I'm sorry I'm gong to be against it today. And if it's 30 days from now I'm going to vote no," said Jackson.

The council voted four to two against proceeding with the project. Disappointed the Cypress Group says it's not over yet. "We're going to regroup as a development team and try to figure out where to go from here and the best path forward," said Rinaudo.

So what is next for the City? Mayor Randy Roach says they're currently out for RFP bids on a Lakefront Hotel. They'll present the bids they receive at next Tuesday's agenda meeting and discuss in relation to Wednesday night's vote on how to proceed.

Here's how the following council members voted.

Luvertha August
John Ieyoub
Dana Jackson
Stuart Weatherford

Mark Eckard
Rodney Geyen

* Marshall Simien was absent at Wednesday night's meeting.

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