Blighted firehouses used for sex, other criminal activity
BATON ROUGE - Six brand-new firehouses opened over the last three years in Baton Rouge, but when those buildings opened the old ones were forgotten.
Your tax money is paying to keep the utilities on in some of the public buildings that are boarded up and unoccupied. Parish leaders promised changes are coming after News 2 started asking questions.
It was 1 a.m. on a Friday in July when News 2 spotted people who identified themselves as prostitutes working Plank Road in Baton Rouge. They told News 2 they can make at least $1,000 per night working the area.
Blocks away is one of the few places possible to perform for that money: an abandoned firehouse on Osage at Pocahontas. It's the perfect spot; dark, secluded, and not off of any main roads. News 2 found dozens of used condoms littering the parish property. Our cameras captured a car parked outside with two people engaging in what appeared to be a sexual position. As we approached with cameras rolling, they quickly broke it up.
"Every night, they come around 10 to 12 o'clock," a concerned neighbor said. "They do all kind of sexual activity over there."
This neighbor claims she's tried to get something done about the firehouse numerous times.
"It's a disaster," she said. "I have called the city several times. No one has come out to respond on it. They have all kind of sexual activity over here at the fire station."
The firehouse on Osage near Pocahontas is one of six fire stations that are abandoned and boarded up in East Baton Rouge Parish. The others are on Gus Young, Foster Drive, Lobdell, Rosenwald and Laurel Streets. At least two of the fire stations were completely locked. Inside others we found fire inspections dating back to 1974, as well as perfectly usable boots and other equipment still inside the abandoned firehouses.
The six abandoned stations are among 6,000 blighted properties in East Baton Rouge Parish. Big Brown and other residents just want to see them put to better use.
"They need to take these abandoned buildings and make some type of educational thing for kids in this neighborhood," Big Brown said.
"It just makes the neighborhood look so bad where I'm living," the concerned neighbor said. "My area is real nice, and my house looks bad with all of this activity going on."
News 2 took these concerns to Department of Public Works Director David Guillory. We pointed out the gaping holes on the lawn of one firehouse, broken glass and the condoms that litter the property.
"Is that embarrassing or shocking to see that," Chief Investigator Chris Nakamoto asked Guillory.
"Absolutely," Guillory said. "It looks boarded up, but if there's a way to get in people will find a way to get in."
When the firefighters moved into new buildings and abandoned the older firehouses over the course of three years, all of the old stations were left to DPW to manage.
"We try to keep the abandoned buildings violation-free," Guillory said. "Sometimes that doesn't happen, and it can be a liability."
Guillory admits the Osage and Gus Young firehouses are liabilities for the city-parish. He promised to address them immediately after our interview.
"This building would be a good case for demolition," Guillory said outside the Osage Firehouse. "It (the property) may be worth more with a building not on it."
The other blighted firehouses could likely be sold or auctioned at a cheap price to community leaders willing to transform them for other purposes. It's welcomed news in the community.
"I think the city of Baton Rouge needs to bring some type of program to this area," Big Brown said. "If they are going to keep these things abandoned and locked up, why not use them?"
Others are furious it has taken this long for the city-parish to address the concerns. They believe their neighborhoods are forgotten like the firehouses.
"Either you're going to do something or not, but this is a lot of activity going on," the concerned neighbor said.
At least one of the fire stations will be converted into a fire museum. We will be following up to make sure DPW does what it says it's going to do to clean up these blighted firehouses.