Attorney Tony Clayton has acquired the historic downtown building at 121 Convention St. from its longtime owner, the state of Louisiana, for $700,000.
Clayton had long had his eye on the 5,200-square-foot building, which is adjacent to the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center and, with its wrought iron balcony and lunette windows, appears to have been plucked from a French Quarter street.
He says he had the building appraised two years ago for $350,000 and approached Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne about buying it for that price.
But Clayton wasn’t the only one who wanted the building, according to Dardenne, who says he entertained several offers on the property before deciding earlier this year the best way to maximize its value was to put it up for auction with a minimum starting bid of $352,000.
Clayton, who took over as district attorney for the 18th Judicial District in January and is also a well-known personal injury attorney with an outsized personality, says he decided to have fun with the process and bid incognito.
He showed up for the June 25 courthouse wearing shorts, a baseball cap on backward and dark sunglasses. He told someone in the crowd he might put a rap studio there. He says he was counting on his casual demeanor to dissuade competitors from running up the price.
His plan backfired.
The price quickly escalated to $400,000. Two of four bidders dropped out. Clayton and the remaining bidder got into a bidding war.
“By the time we got over $500,000, a crowd had gathered around us,” he says. “We got to $600,00 and I said $600,001. He went to $675,000. I folded my hands and said $700,000.”
Clayton got the building.
“My strategy backfired,” he says, laughing. “And I got stuck paying twice the building’s appraised price.”
But Clayton doesn’t have buyer’s remorse. On the contrary, he plans to renovate the building, repair the iron work and paint the exterior to match that of the Hilton.
He’s hoping to partner with the Hilton on potential uses or concepts and says the hotel has expressed an interest in working with him. He’s also asking the community for ideas, input and any historical information they may have on the property.
“If anyone has historic pictures of the building from that area send them to me,” he says. “I’m open to suggestions. I want to restore it to its original glory. It’s a wonderful building.”
Dardenne says the state’s decision to auction the building, which was occupied for years by the nonprofit ARC of Baton Rouge, was not part of a larger strategy to offload state properties.
Rather, it was one of two buildings the state no longer needed so it decided to put it on the market. The other, an office building in the 4600 block of Government Street in Mid City, which has been listed since last fall for $4.25 million, hasn’t attracted nearly as much interest.
“Convention Street is such an attractive building,” Dardenne says. “We knew it would do well at auction.”
(Editor’s note: This story has been updated since its original publication to reflect that Tony Clayton is also district attorney for the 18th Judicial District, though the purchase of the property is in no way connected to that job.)