The rice mill is located on 13 acres in downtown Abbeville. Riviana Foods could donate the property to the city.
What the old rice mill in Abbeville could end up transforming into remains to be seen.
However, officials with the city of Abbeville don’t want to see the facility torn down and scrapped for parts.
On Tuesday, they took a step to potentially keep that from happening, as well as a step that could see the 13-acre property eventually become a vibrant part of the city’s downtown area.
During its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20, the Abbeville City Council voted 5-0 to authorize Mayor Roslyn White to execute a letter of intent as a mutual good faith agreement and to exercise reasonable efforts to finalize a Donation Agreement between Riviana Foods, Inc. and the City of Abbeville for the Mill Properties at 405 S. Washington Street and 406 S. Main Street.
Riviana Foods, Inc. owns the properties.
“These are two buildings on a national historical registry and 13 acres in our historic downtown,” White said. “That includes river frontage that is somewhere between 250 and 500 feet of river front.”
Riviana Foods is owned by Ebro Foods, a Spanish corporation. Riviana leased the property to Planters Rice, which ceased operation at the facility two years ago. The mill has sat vacant since.
“They could demolish two buildings on our national historical registry,” White said, “sell it for parts, and possibly put the property up for sale.
While moving toward that plan, Riviana contacted the city in May.
“At some point after talking to them,” White said, “they made an offer to donate the property to the city.”
White acknowledged that such a move could be a challenge for the city.
“It could also be a huge opportunity,” White said.
Tuesday’s non-binding move had that in mind.
“I think it’s prudent that we move forward with at least doing our due diligence,” White said. “It is my recommendation that we actually accept the donation, depending on what the due diligence unveils.
“I think we absolutely should move forward with the signing of this letter of intention.”
Upon signing of the letter of intent, the city will have 60 days to negotiate the execution of a donation with Riviana.
“That actual donation would come back to this council for approval,” White explained.
Members of the council will be able to tour the facility as part of the due-diligence phase.
“We will bring in some experts to look at the structural integrity of the property,” White said.
Developers have already shown interest.
“We would bring them in to let them see,” White said.
If all aspects go according to plan, the city could take ownership of the properties by the end of this year.
Chad LaComb of the Acadiana Planning Commission attended Tuesday’s meeting. He said there are plenty of resources available for whoever would embark on development.
“These are amazing assets,” LaComb said, “having two national registered historical buildings already there and available. With that national registered listing, plus their existence in a state cultural district, whoever redevelops it, as long as they are able to take full advantage of the tax credits, have access to federal and state preservation tax credits. That could cover 40% of the qualified rehab costs.
“That’s a big carrot, which makes it attractive for a potential developer to come in because it covers a good chunk of your cost.”
LaComb said old buildings do come with possible environmental issues.
“There are funds available that could help cover some of those costs,” LaComb said. “That’s another carrot in terms of making these buildings attractive.”
White, who took office for her first term in July, said the city would work closely with the Acadiana Planning Commission through any potential processes. LaComb said the organization has been involved in similar projects in other areas.
“I have been involved with about a half dozen,” LaComb said. “We break it down and run through all the pain points and then make it a jewel.”
Former Mayor Mark Piazza, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, commended the move to looking into receiving the donation.
“This is obviously a monumental undertaking,” Piazza said. “It’s a huge building, right in the middle of downtown Abbeville. If this governing body doesn’t take this task on, nobody else is going to do it. You are going to end up with an empty lot, instead of a beautiful, historic building. My grandfather helped lay the bricks on that building, 120 years ago.
“That (property) is a real treasure that I would hate to see Abbeville lose.”
Piazza’s successor agreed.
“It’s going to take work,” White said, “but you know me, I’m not afraid of hard work. We have an opportunity to make this an attractive deal for the right community partner. And we get an opportunity to control what happens in our historic downtown.
“I will say that it’s a no-brainer that you take it.”