NEW ORLEANS – The budget-tightening move to relocate personnel in the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office to unoccupied space in the Benson Tower building near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will save the state more than $300,000 annually, but the one-time moving costs have yet to be tallied, state officials said this week.
The attorney general’s New Orleans staff will move to the ninth floor of the high rise owned by Saints and Pelicans owner Tom Benson. Though the space had previously been set aside for employees of the Attorney General’s Office, former Attorney General Buddy Caldwell balked at the idea of moving, saying that the space would not meet the office’s needs.
After Jeff Landry took over as attorney general in January, he embraced the idea and began working with the Division of Administration to make it a reality. The space sat empty for years even while the state was paying rent for it.
“Recognizing the savings to the state, the AG immediately agreed, and we have been in the process of the move ever since,” Ruth Wisher, Landry’s press secretary, said in an email to the Louisiana Record.
The state’s decision to lease 323,000 square feet of space in the tower dates back to a 2009 deal made by former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. The state decided to rent the space as part of a financial package to keep the Saints in New Orleans.
“I am dedicated to being a good steward of taxpayer money and a team player in solving our state's budget issues," Landry said in a statement this week.
The Attorney General’s Office will take over 19,000 square feet of floor space, and the state won’t be penalized when the state workers pull up stakes at their current Poydras Street location.
“There is a clause in the (current) lease agreement that allows us to break it if we are moving into a state building,” Wisher explained.
In total, the move should save the state $339,000 each year, but those savings won’t be felt until the next fiscal year since the move won’t take place until summer, she said.
Wisher added that once personnel move to the tower – the exact number of staff members is still to be determined – all the state’s allotted space in the building will be filled. The distance between the Benson Tower and the attorney general staff’s current location is approximately a half-mile.
She said the Attorney General’s Office does not anticipate any parking problems at the new site, which was a concern of Caldwell’s administration.
Government waste, such as the state’s shelling out funds for empty office, has been a rising concern as the governor and state lawmakers struggle this year to close a budget deficit of nearly $1 billion.
For about six years, state agencies have paid $8.1 million annually to rent out 17 of the tower’s 26 floors. In 2014, a report by the Louisiana legislative auditor concluded that the price the state has been paying for the tower space was higher than comparable properties in the city.
“In its efforts to retain the Saints in Louisiana, the state appears to be paying higher-than-market rates for office space in Benson Tower,” the report said.