In his final State of the Parish address on Wednesday, Mayor-President Kip Holden described Baton Rouge as safer and better off than it was before he took office, citing improvements to roads and public safety and efforts to draw businesses and film projects to the area.
Holden, who is in his final year as mayor-president for East Baton Rouge Parish, cannot seek re-election because he’s term limited.
In his annual speech to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, Holden touched on the milestones of his last 11 years in office, while bidding an early farewell to the capital city.
He noted that some of the work started or accomplished during his tenure will continue to pay off in the future. For example, he promised a proposed fixed-route trolley connecting downtown and LSU would become a reality. The project is currently the subject of a feasibility study.
“This is not a dream; this something you’ll be riding in the next five years,” Holden told a room of more than 100 Rotary members and guests. To date, the project has received a $1.8 million federal grant, supplemented by another $1 million from local funds, for study and planning. No construction funds have been identified yet.
Holden said in an interview after his speech that he has “mixed emotions” about his final year in office, and he was fighting back tears.
“It’s a happy time, not to be leaving office but to be seeing so many of the things we’ve accomplished,” he said. “But I felt like I was saying farewell to this group — which was hard. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.”
Holden also said he’s not sure what his next move will be. In November, he lost to Billy Nungesser in the state election for lieutenant governor. Despite reports that Holden was being pressed to run for Congress against incumbent Cedric Richmond, Holden said in an interview that he’s unsure if he’ll run because his wife is against it.
In his address, Holden pointed to the recent New Year’s Eve event, dubbed Red Stick Revelry, as an example of Baton Rouge’s growth. The event, which features live music, fireworks and a 9-foot LED-lighted red stick that drops at midnight, was in its third year and drew more than 20,000 people downtown. The event, Holden said, has become a New Year’s destination, while adding to the overall quality of life in the city. He also noted there were no arrests downtown on New Year’s Eve.
“What other city in America can accomplish that?” he asked. Other quality-of-life events that have emerged or expanded in recent years in Baton Rouge include the downtown Live After Five and Sunday in the Park concert series, Bayou Country Superfest at LSU and the Baton Rouge Blues Festival.
Under his leadership, Holden said, violent crime in Baton Rouge declined 21 percent and property crime decreased 28 percent since 2005.
He touted the BRAVE program, which targets high-crime areas, the acquisition of the former Woman’s Hospital on Airline Highway as a cost-saving measure providing much-needed space for the Baton Rouge Police Department, and said body cameras will be implemented across the Police Department by the end of the year.
Holden took great pride in the interest film productions have taken in Baton Rouge over the years.
While much of the credit goes to the state’s generous film tax credit program, Holden noted the Baton Rouge film commission had been formed under his watch, and he has personally recruited producers.
“Today, we are one of the premier locations in the world for television and film production, competing with London, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York,” he said. “Today, we average more than $170 million in direct spending per year by film productions.”
Downtown developments and improvements also took the stage. Over the past 10 years, $790 million in public dollars has been invested downtown, spurring an additional $1 billion in private investment, Holden said. There are now more than 1,000 hotel rooms downtown and the city attracts about 1.5 million tourists every year.
Holden made little mention in the State of the Parish address of his plans for the remainder of his term, but in an interview, he said there are still exciting developments to come, including plans to bring the Viking River Cruises to Baton Rouge to connect to Memphis, Tennessee. He also said he has plans to visit California to recruit more movies and is working with business leaders in China about expansion opportunities in Baton Rouge.
Holden thanked many of the business and civic leaders in the room for their support over his three terms. He noted it took him three tries to finally win his first election.
“It is my honor to announce for my final time that the state of our city and parish is strong; in fact, it’s awesome,” Holden said in his closing remarks. “You’ve honored me to serve three terms as mayor-president, a job I love, for the city-parish. We came together and laid out a framework for progress, and we achieved these goals and so many more.”