City of Plaquemine will not renew Depot Market lease

Staff Report
The City of Plaquemine will not sign another lease agreement for the Plaquemine Depot Market, Mayor Ed Reeves said. The city cannot legally pay utility bills for businesses that operate in the 116-year-old facility.

The City of Plaquemine will not renew the lease with the Plaquemine Depot Market following the expiration of its current lease, according to Plaquemine Mayor Ed Reeves.

The Plaquemine Depot Market had operated as a privately run business under a 10-year lease agreement brokered with Marilyn Breaux during the administration of the late Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta.

The agreement called for the city to pick up the tab for all utilities and other aspects of the operation, such as supplies. The 10-year rental agreement ended upon Breaux’s sudden death in April.

Reeves said the agreement signed during Gulotta’s administration charged $1,000 a month.

But the agreement also called for the city to pay all utilities, all maintenance, all janitorial work and all pesticide services.

Plaquemine Mayor Ed Reeves

“We lost $30,000 last year, but I’m getting beat pretty bad about shutting it down,” Reeves said.

The mayor said City Attorney Phil Canova advised him to honor the lease, but Canova warned that him that the agreement cannot legally “give away utilities.”

Canova advised him that the loss constitutes a donation, which is not legally allowed. Under state law, the city cannot legal donate to any person, association or corporation.

“We can’t do it,” Reeves said. “I’ve met with all the vendors at my office, and Phil said it was illegal to provide free utilities for businesses, and that we could no longer continue that practice.”

The utility bill averages $1,553 a month, the mayor said.

“They net about $300 extra per tenant, and couldn’t afford it, but that’s not my problem – it’s business,” he said.

Three tenants paid less than $100 a month, and two paid less than $250 monthly, Reeves said.

“I can’t give city services away,” he said. “In my opinion, we should never have entered into that lease.”

The utilities for the Depot Market cost considerably more because the building – completed in 1905 – does not comply with current energy efficiency standards.

The city has not been reprimanded or warned by the state Office of the Legislative Auditor, and Reeves said he is trying to avoid that.

“But when the lease expires, I told them I was not going to renew, ‘he said.  “I’m not getting rid of them – they just need to pay the utility bill.”

Reeves said the door is open and he is willing to work with the tenants.

“But they’ve got to pay to play,” he said.

Merchant Marietta O’Dwyer will continue to operate Bugs & Butterflies, a children’s clothing and gift store at the Depot Market. She will lease her location, in the separate north end of the building, and will pay utilities on that portion of the facility.

The city is looking at a variety of options for the remaining space that will be open at the Depot, including lease agreements.