Port of South Louisiana Won’t Release Avondale Deal Docs | business News

January 25, 2023 0 Comments

Facing scrutiny for its $445 million proposed purchase of the former Avondale Shipyard, Port of South Louisiana officials have refused to make public appraisal documents that they say the current owner paid for four years Justifies the seven times higher price in comparison. first.

Citing “active talks,” port attorney Richard Pressler said late Monday in response to a public records request that the port, which is a state-sponsored agency, would not commission a site evaluation, which was conducted by Executive Director Paul Matthews. Has said that he trusts it. Agreeing to buy the site from T. Parker Host.

The port announced on January 12 that after months of negotiations between Matthews and executives with the company, its board of commissioners had voted to buy Avondale, now known as Avondale Global Gateway. News of the massive deal stunned leaders of the state’s other major ports and Governor John Bel Edwards, a longtime booster of the redevelopment of the 254-acre site.


Adam Anderson, CEO of T. Parker Host, right, speaks as Gov. John Bel Edwards listens during the announcement of the renaming of the Avondale Shipyard to the Avondale Global Gateway at the facility in Avondale, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. (Photo by Scott Threlkeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The vote of the nine-member Board of Commissioners took place on January 9 at a special meeting not listed with other meetings on the port’s website. The agenda of the meeting, which was emailed to commissioners along with other public bodies and some members of the media, gave no indication that the board would discuss a major potential investment during an executive session behind closed doors.

jobs, bond

Matthews has said in recent days that the deal will make jobs Avondale’s top priority and that it will boost its ability to attract federal dollars. He said the port plans to pay for it by issuing loans through the state bond commission.

But since it was announced, critics have questioned whether the massive site, which sits under the jurisdiction of the Port of New Orleans and is not an anchor tenant, could justify the purchase price.


Paul Matthews, executive director of the Port of South Louisiana, said the purchase of Avondale Global Gateway helps build a regional strategy to maximize the use of the state’s waterways for industrial development. (Photo by Brett Duke, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate)

The executives of T. Parker Host purchased the property in 2018 for $60 million. Last year, he said he would invest $150 million to tackle environmental issues and transform the former shipyard into a multimodal transit hub. But the pandemic and other delays have slowed their progress.

At a legislative committee hearing Monday, state Sen. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, whose district includes Avondale, asked Matthews why the port would pay such a high price for the site, given that T. Parker Hoste Bought it for very little a few years back.

Matthews pointed to an independent appraisal commissioned from the Baton Rouge real estate firm Cook, Moore, Davenport & Associates, saying their appraisal was based on price.

“All the information is within the evaluation itself,” Mathews told Connick.

Connick said early Tuesday that he had not yet seen the report.

“The valuation needs to be made public if they intend to seek help from the bond commission,” Connick said in a text message.

While declining to provide valuation and other information about the acquisition, port spokesman Micah Cormier has said the port has a “non-disclosure agreement” with T. Parker Host, which concerns unspecified “trade secrets”. and may contain other sensitive commercial information. If the valuation is made public, it will be disclosed.

Cormier said the port had “begun a period of due diligence to gather more information on the property, such as a feasibility study and environmental assessment.”

They said they did not intend to make public any additional information about the deal until mid-February at the earliest.

“The Bond Council of the Port of South Louisiana intends to submit its bond application in mid-February at the March Bond Commission meeting,” Cormier said in an emailed statement. “At that time, the records associated with that bond application shall be subject to the public records law.”

Do discounts apply?

Experts in Louisiana public-records law questioned Tuesday whether an exemption would apply to the required release of the type of information claimed by the port’s attorney.

Lori Minns, a New Orleans-based attorney specializing in public records law, notes that the law clearly states that the “active negotiation” exemption does not apply once a public body has voted on the proposal. The Port of South Louisiana board voted unanimously for the agreement during a special meeting in early January, and the port announced it three days later.

It also questioned whether the port followed the law on public assemblies when it voted for the deal.

“There was nothing in that agenda (for the January 9 special board meeting) that would indicate what they actually talked about in that meeting,” he emailed to the Port on January 6. Referring to the information of

According to a port staff member familiar with the procedures, who was not authorized to speak publicly, only Matthews and board chairman Ryan Burks knew ahead of time that the Avondale deal would be discussed in closed executive session.

He had expected the presentation of the deal and the $445 million price tag to be only “informative” and that the nine commissioners would take time to hammer it out before taking a public vote.

But the board decided to go ahead immediately and walked out of executive session, added it to its agenda and voted unanimously, the staff member said.

Steven Procopio, president of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana, a public policy watchdog, said the port’s process appears to be flawed.

“If the Port Commission does not properly advertise the planned discussion at its meeting, it will not only violate Louisiana’s open meetings law, but it will also deprive the public of an important opportunity to weigh in on the project,” he said. .

Procopio said the merits of the deal and its value should be discussed publicly.

“Transparency is not just a box you check; it provides the trust and understanding needed to successfully conduct government business,” he said.

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