A land dispute between the church run by the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart and a group of investors looking for a new home for Earl K. Long Medical Center was settled in court Monday.
Swaggart’s Family Worship Center Church Inc. agreed to pay the investors $600,000 to buy out the final month of a lease option on two church-owned buildings. With the option agreement out of the way, the church plans to lease the two buildings — the Ketchum Center and Trotter Building, both on the west side of Bluebonnet Boulevard — to the federal government, said Barry W. Miller, an attorney and spokesman for Family Worship Center.
“The Rev. Swaggart feels this is a benefit to the community because it frees up the buildings and we are now able to lease to the federal government,” Miller said.
He added that the federal agencies expected to move into the buildings are involved with hurricane relief efforts.
The lease option held by Health Science Park was scheduled to expire Nov. 5. The Ketchum Center houses an administrative and student lounge and a cafeteria for the Jimmy Swaggart Bible College. The Trotter Building serves as a gymnasium for students.
State District Judge Janice Clark was scheduled to hold a hearing on the lawsuit Monday. Before the hearing began, representatives for the two sides walked into a conference room near the judge’s courtroom and, after several hours of negotiations, hammered out the agreement.
Claude Reynaud Jr., the attorney for the investors, said Family Worship Center has 90 days to lease the property. If the property goes without a lease for those 90 days, the investors will regain the rights they had under the original lease option.
“We got paid to give them some flexibility,” Reynaud said.
Miller and Reynaud said the settlement does not have any impact on the purchase option the investors have on 38 acres of Family Worship Center property on the east side of Bluebonnet Boulevard. The investors have offered the land to LSU as a possible site for a teaching hospital to replace Earl K. Long Medical Center, Reynaud said.
“I know that if LSU comes knocking, (the investors) will be interested,” Reynaud said.
The attorney added that the investors are not restricted to using the site only for a new charity hospital.
The dispute between Family Worship Center and Health Science Park LLC ended up in court amid allegations that the Swaggart-run church was trying to renege on the options.
Terry Jones, the managing member of Health Science Park, has said the church was not honoring its options because of the soaring real estate values in Baton Rouge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Jones claimed in the lawsuit that he, along with two other investors, Steve Jones and Gary Solomon, paid $350,000 for the options.
Terry Jones said Health Science has been talking with LSU for months about using the land as a possible site for the hospital.
Miller, who called the Monday settlement a “bitter pill to swallow,”claimed three weeks ago that he thought Health Science investors were after money.
“They want money, and they want us to pay them off, I guess,” Miller said last month.
Before the settlement, Miller had filed a motion that asked Clark to stop Health Science from forcing the ministry to evict hurricane relief workers housed on the property.
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