North Baton Rouge becoming new focus for economic redevelopment efforts _lowres

Regina Barrow

Multiple movements to revive north Baton Rouge have sprouted in recent weeks, as politicians have begun questioning what some see as disparate economic development efforts in north and south Baton Rouge.

State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, has been at the forefront of the efforts, getting legislation passed this spring to create an economic development district for north Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge North Economic Development District would be somewhat similar to the Downtown Development District and would be a group of public officials and stakeholders trying to bring economic development projects to the area.

The district’s boundaries are Florida Boulevard on the south, Harding Boulevard on the north, Scenic Highway on the west, and Mickens Road and North Sherwood Forest Drive on the east. Barrow said she wants to push up the northern boundary, perhaps as far as Thomas Road.

Conversations during the election cycle have also led other political leaders to affirm the need for a north Baton Rouge economic development district. Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel, who has been working with Barrow, announced earlier this week her interest in pursuing the district.

On Thursday, Metro Councilman John Delgado stepped into the ring and proposed his own version of a North Baton Rouge economic development district. The proposed boundaries of his are north of Florida Boulevard, within the city limits of Baton Rouge, and excluding Downtown and the industrial corridor.

Barrow said Thursday that she had not heard of Delgado’s proposal.

Barrow’s economic development district is still in its initial stages, and she said she is working to assemble a board of commissioners from community leaders in the area.

She said she also wants to pursue a tax in the future to help pay for some of the district’s projects, as the Downtown Development District does. The current legislation does not give the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District the authority to bring a tax but advocates are hoping to gain that authority in the coming legislative session.

But before pursuing a tax, Barrow said, she wants the community to see and recognize the impact that the district can have on their quality of life.

“There are a lot of people like myself who live in community who would like to be able to go and buy in the community,” Barrow said.

She said she hopes to start off by bringing grocery stores and retail businesses to north Baton Rouge. Barrow also envisions adding a green space that could be a town square for north Baton Rouge.

Barrow already has some investors behind her, including Rinaldi Jacobs, who is one of the people looking to develop the area and is working with the legislator on plans for the district.

Last week, Mayor-President Kip Holden said at a forum at Southern University hosted by activist and publisher of The Rouge Collection Gary Chambers that investors have not been interested in north Baton Rouge.

Jacobs said Thursday that developers should be attracted to the area.

“I believe that it makes sense to go to north Baton Rouge from a development standpoint,” Jacobs said. “No. 1, there’s more land available for opportunities, there’s a greater need. They don’t need grocery stores in south Baton Rouge. They don’t need apartments around LSU, they need them around Southern.”

Jacobs is working on a project to build a new Gus Young Pool on the north side of Baton Rouge, after BREC demolished the out-of-date pool earlier this year. He also said he is working with the Redevelopment Authority to bring a grocery store to Scotlandville.

While Barrow’s proposal has passed through the legislature, Delgado’s proposal would go through the Metro Council.

The type of development district Delgado is proposing would allow businesses and developers to apply for property tax abatements. That means that if someone develops a blighted lot, they can pay the property taxes at the original value for 10 years rather than the taxes for the improved value of the land after its developed.

“If your current property taxes are $100 a year, and you put a million dollar building on the lot, you can lock those property taxes in for 10 years, instead of paying the $10,000 it might be worth,” Delgado said.

Delgado said he was motivated by recent discussions about the lack of economic development and job availability in North Baton Rouge compared to other parts of the parish.

He said he did not blame the mayor for the lack of development in North Baton Rouge, pointing to some projects in low income areas like the Ardendale mixed use project that’s being developed off Florida Boulevard.

Jacobs also said that while politicians can help add incentives for people to invest in an area, the onus for redevelopment is on the developers themselves.

Delgado noted that downtown Baton Rouge, which has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, offers several business incentives and tax rebate programs to developers.

“This is not a magic wand that will cure all the ills in Baton Rouge,” Delgado said. “This is the first step in what I see as many steps that will improve the economic situation in Baton Rouge. We as a community and parish cannot grow if all that growth is existing in only one part of the parish.”

Many North Baton Rouge advocates use the Downtown Development District as an example they’d like to follow of taking a once empty and blighted area and turning it in a thriving economic center.

Davis Rhorer, director of the DDD, said redevelopment of that magnitude takes time, planning, public-private partnerships and community buy-in.

Rhorer recalled a time when downtown was so depressed that banks wouldn’t finance renovations of homes in the area and property owners couldn’t get insurance for the homes and buildings downtown.

“You first have to start organizing property owners and people with a vested interest,” he said. “It’s a progression of building blocks. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Editor’s note: The online version of this article was changed on Thursday, Nov. 19, to clarify that the legislation to create a Baton Rouge North Development District does not give the district taxing authority.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on Friday, Nov. 20, to reflect that the Baton Rouge North Development District’s boundary to the west will be Scenic Highway and the boundary to the east will be Mickens Road and North Sherwood Forest Drive.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter @rebekahallen. For more coverage of city-parish government, follow City Hall Buzz blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/cityhallbuzz/