By Gerald Michel
Terrebonne Council Member
If you’ve played the game of Monopoly, you know that the corner space titled “Free Parking” is a landfall for whoever lands on it because they get the money others have put into it.
Unfortunately, the parking lot which is located at the corner of Barrow and Main Streets, adjacent to Government Tower, does not belong to the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government. And it is anything but “Free Parking”. For years, when Chase Bank was leasing their banking space on the first and second floors of Government Towers, they were also leasing the parking lot from Edward “Sonny” LeBlanc. Once the parish lost Chase Bank as its $250,000 per year tenant, Mr. LeBlanc decided to sell the parking lot.
According to a previous article in The Times, there is indication that LeBlanc approached parish administration about selling the parking lot to Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government. In any event, either Parish President Gordon Dove and his trusted advisors were outsmarted by Martin Folse, who purchased the property from LeBlanc in the name of a company he owns called MARFO, or they simply chose to not purchase the property which is situated to be a natural addition to Government Towers.
While Martin Folse has said that LeBlanc had given him first right of refusal years earlier, I was told by people directly involved that Folse, who also owns HTV, was not contacted by LeBlanc about purchasing the parking lot until after he contacted at least two other potential purchasers, one of which was the Terrebonne Parish Consolidated Government.
Like any good business man would do, Folse grabbed at the opportunity with apparent hopes of leasing the property to the taxpayers of Terrebonne Parish. Whether Parish President Dove chose to ignore LeBlanc’s offer or whether Folse simply acted first is an interpretation to be made by the public. In any event, the issue of leasing the parking lot came before the Parish Council last January. After public outcry against the lease, and an anticipated defeat by the Parish Council, Martin Folse presented an unsigned document to the Council Chairman who read the document at the council meeting. While Folse was present at the council meeting, he chose not to speak to the council where he would have been recorded and accountable to answer questions from councilpersons.
And now, almost a year later, despite the public’s wishes, the item is being resurrected. But, instead of leasing 19 spaces for about $25,000 per year, this year’s proposal would cost the parish upwards of $42,000 of annual tax payer money, which includes over $39,000 for 30 parking spaces plus the cost of liability insurance to cover MARFO as well as MARFO’S annual tax bill on the property, two additions which Folse insisted upon. Instead of a one-year lease, Folse is demanding a three-year lease. To top it off, if we want to get out of the lease, it could cost the taxpayers another $10,000.
Despite the council’s unanimously affirmed motion at the end of November, 2018 requesting administration to study the parking needs and options for Government Towers, no needs assessment beyond the “we need it” explanation has been provided.
After exploring the current situation, I have learned that we currently have 420 parking spaces on eight levels of the parking garage, with a realistic potential to add up to 72 more on the first level. In addition to garage parking, there are 48 spaces on the ground level adjacent to Government Tower, some of which can be used for handicapped parking. Depending upon where someone first-floor destination, their walking distance may be a bit shorter or longer from the currently owned parking lot as compared to the proposed leased parking spaces. The difference is negligible.
On Friday, December 28, 2018 at 9:30a.m. there were 131 cars parked in those 540 spaces. Admittedly, many Terrebonne Parish Government employees may have taken a vacation day at this end-of-year holiday time, however, it is evident that there is no need for additional parking spaces for Government Towers. I have never seen cars parked on levels 7 or 8 of the parking garage.
In summary, Government Tower currently has about 540 parking spaces. For the price of $42,000 plus you can increase that number by 30, to about 570 spaces. That’s less than a 6% increase in parking spaces. Is this how we want your tax dollars spent?
Unfortunately, if Parish President Dove, Martin Folse and a few council members didn’t think they had the five votes necessary to fund this lease, it probably wouldn’t be on the agenda for a January 9, 2019 public hearing. This is where the public comes in.
While there may be enough votes to fund this colossal waste of taxpayer dollars, you have a voice as well. Public hearings are designed to do just that…hear from the public. While it is unfortunate that you must make your opinions known at a public hearing, this is your right and your responsibility. On January 9, 2019, whether you agree with me or not, please come to the council meeting room on the 2nd Floor of Government Tower to express your opinion about this lease. To access the council meeting room, you may park in the parking garage and walk across the second-floor bridge which leads directly to the entrance of the council meeting room. If you prefer, or if you need a handicapped parking space, please park on the ground level adjacent to Government Tower. There’s plenty parking space for you.
While I will vote against this waste of tax payer dollars, that may not be enough to defeat it. If you cannot attend the public hearing, please contact your councilperson and express your opinion. After all, this is not Monopoly money. It’s your money. And when election time comes at the end of 2019, it will be your vote.
Mr. Michel is the Terrebonne Parish Council’s District 3 representative. This opinion piece is an expression of his own thoughts and does not necessarily reflect the view of The Times, its management or its staff.
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