Swaggart, investor group head to Court of Appeals over disputed Bluebonnet land

A nearly 12-year-old dispute over one of the last undeveloped tracts of land along the highly desirable Bluebonnet Boulevard corridor heads to the First Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday for what could be the final hearing in the long running case.

At issue is a 60-acre parcel on the campus of the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart’s Family Worship Center Church that local investor group Health Science Park has been trying to acquire from the ministry since 2005. HSP hopes to develop the property, which sits in the heart of the city’s Health District, into a medical complex.

The dispute centers on the price of the land. HSP signed a purchase agreement with the ministry before Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to acquire the property for $6.7 million. After the storm—and subsequent surge in property values—the ministry tried to back out of the deal, according to court documents. The two sides have been fighting ever since.

In early 2016, the case finally went to trial. A jury ruled in favor of HSP, not only giving the investors the right to buy the property at the original, pre-Katrina price, but also awarding them $4.4 million in damages, including $1.6 million in interest for the income they could have been earning on the property during the years they’ve been fighting Swaggart in court.

After Swaggart’s attorneys were unsuccessful in their attempt to get a new trial, they brought their case to the First Circuit.

An attorney for HSP says he hopes the Court of Appeals will be the final legal hurdle for his clients, who are ready to move forward with developing the property into a complex with medical, residential and commercial components.

“They’re ready but they cannot move forward with their plans until the judgment (from the trial court) becomes final,” HSP attorney Claude Reynaud says. “If this judgment becomes final, they have to move relatively quickly under the deadline and option agreements.”

A ruling from the First Circuit is expected to take three or four months. Though the losing side could ask the Louisiana Supreme Court to take up the matter, the high court has denied several times over the years to hear any of the issues related to the case.

Reynaud says his clients are still willing to negotiate a deal with the ministry but that so far there have been no signs that Swaggart is interested in settlement talks.

“You can settle a case at any time, even after a verdict and a judgment,” he says. “But we’ve had no settlement talks with the ministry. It’s really bizarre. At the end of the day, even if we prevail, we’re paying them money.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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