River District property goes back to the bank for $20M

In a move that has been anticipated for months, Goldman Sachs has taken back the nearly 30 acres of property along Nicholson Drive that Lafayette oilman Michael Moreno and his sister, Dalis Waguespack, had hoped to turn into a mixed-use development called the River District.

According to the U.S. Marshals Service, the bank bought back the property at a Feb. 1 auction at U.S. District Court. There were no other bidders.

A Goldman Sachs’ attorney declines to comment, and an attorney for Moreno did not return calls seeking comment. But multiple sources familiar with the situation tell Daily Report the sale price was $20 million.

The transaction closes a long chapter in the history of the property that began in the early 2000s, when Moreno began acquiring the property and promoting plans to turn it into a mixed-use development with apartments, retail space and an entertainment district. At the time—before Nicholson Drive’s redevelopment had begun—many in the real estate community believed the Lafayette oilman was overpaying for the property, which he acquired in more than 50 separate transactions for a total of $23 million or nearly $18 per square foot.

Then the Great Recession hit, throwing the real estate market into a tailspin. Compounding Moreno’s problems were legal issues with his Lafayette oil business.

In early 2014, it appeared as though the project might finally get underway, when plans were publicly unveiled and submitted to the Planning Commission for approval. But nothing ever happened.

In July 2015, Goldman Sachs sued Moreno for defaulting on a $52.4 million loan that, in part, had financed his acquisition of the Nicholson Drive property. He fought the suit and the case was stalled for several months until a U.S. District judge last fall cleared the way for the foreclosure to move forward.

Now, the next chapter in the property begins, when the bank will presumably sell the property in whole or in parts. Both local and out-of-state investors are said to be interested in some or all of the property. But it’s unclear how much they’ll be willing to pay for it.

Developer Mike Wampold, who is “not interested, though curious” about the property, says given all the recent multifamily developments in the area, it could be a tough sell.

“It’s not LSU and it’s not downtown and there’s no tram (along Nicholson Drive) there yet, so what are you going to put there, more apartments?” Wampold says. “Do you really need them?”

Local real estate appraisers say there really haven’t been any comparable sales against which to measure it. Several smaller tracts of property north of LSU have sold recently with prices that ranged from as much as $80 per square foot to less than $13 per square foot, but those sales were for 1- and 2-acre parcels, not 30 acres.

Wampold says he believes the area has a lot of potential but it is still many years before it is realized.

“At some point it’s going to be really something,” he says. “But you can’t do anything with it but to put more housing there, and I just don’t know where your market is going to come from.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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