Just weeks after his sister filed an application to add about seven acres to his long-stalled River District development, Lafayette businessman Mike Moreno got more bad news from a federal judge.
In Lafayette in late May, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty sided with Goldman Sachs Bank and ordered that the Baton Rouge property, along with a Port of Iberia yard that once housed Dynamic Industries, be seized and sold at auction to satisfy the nearly $60 million Moreno now owes the New York-based bank. Moreno and his wife, Tiffany, pledged the acreage as collateral on what was then a $52 million loan, and the bank sued the couple in July after they defaulted on the loan.
Over the course of seven or so years, Moreno and his sister, Dalis Waguespack, worked to accumulate about 35 acres of property on both sides of Nicholson Drive, between Downtown and LSU, for a development that included 1,800 residential units, two hotels, 275,000 square feet of office space and 118,000 square feet of commercial space. The loan from Goldman Sachs was secured by a first mortgage on the Nicholson property and a first, second, and third mortgage on the Port Road Property, the bank stated in the suit.
The 107-acre Port of Iberia property is the former "West Yard" location of Dynamic Industries, a company Moreno purchased in 1998 but no longer owns.
The 47-year-old businessman, who has been selling assets to pay off some of his mounting debt — the ripple effect from the 2013 bankruptcy of his fracking company, Green Field Energy Services — made a killing in 2007 through the partial sale of Moreno Group Holdings, which included offshore fabricator Dynamic Industries. According to court filings in a years-long dispute over the West Yard property and lease between Moreno and Dynamic Industries (in which Dynamic, under new leadership, alleged multiple conflicts of interest by its former chief executive), Moreno got $300 million when he sold nearly half of Moreno Group to global private equity firm The Carlyle Group/Riverstone Holdings LLC in 2007.
Dynamic moved its corporate headquarters to New Orleans and abandoned the property after the protracted legal battle with Moreno. It is now leasing Port of Iberia acreage at 4800 Carl Bauer Road.
Doherty had issued a similar order in the Goldman Sachs case in September, telling U.S. marshals in Lafayette and Baton Rouge to take control of the properties and sell them to the highest bidder to satisfy Moreno’s debt to Goldman Sachs, but the judge pulled back a week later when Moreno asked the court to send the matter to arbitration.
As part of the May ruling, the judge denied the Lafayette oilman's request for arbitration.
"After an event of default, under this contractural language, Goldman Sachs is not limited to an arbitration suit; rather, it may proceed by filing a suit, an action of law or any other appropriate proceeding to enforce the agreement,” Doherty wrote, according to The Advocate.
The new Baton Rouge acreage Moreno and his sister are (were) seeking consists primarily of a parking lot and warehouse located between River Road and the railroad tracks. The property is not immediately adjacent to the existing River District property. It remains unclear why Moreno would ask the city-parish planning commission to add acreage to the development when his ability to hold onto it was still up in the air.
The judge appointed Latter & Blum Property Management Inc. as keeper of the properties, but no date has been set for the sale. The Baton Rouge property is expected to draw significant interest from various parties, though Goldman Sachs is not likely to get anywhere near what Moreno paid for it.