The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority presented a development plan for the Northdale neighborhood just north of downtown Tuesday and soon found its slides of computer-generated buildings along photographed streets met with complaints about the economic and social problems that arose as real investment dried up decades ago.
The plan, crafted using input from scores of neighborhood residents who participated in workshops last year, proposes a catalyst area between North 22nd Street and Scenic Highway south of Cherry Street. Transit shelters, outdoor plazas, landscaping and six commercial buildings focused on neighborhood-scale retail were presented as a way to kick-start investment throughout the neighborhood, which is bordered by railroad tracks to the west; Interstate 110 to the east and south; and Choctaw Drive to the north.
The rest of the neighborhood, which RDA officials said has a stable residential base, would benefit by attracting a grocery and pharmacy, infill residential development and small local retailers along Plank Road and Scenic Highway. A trail system with lights and benches could connect Northdale to other neighborhoods to the south and north. Streets, such as Birch and Hemlock, could be extended for better connectivity.
The goal, RDA President and Chief Executive Officer Walter Monsour explained, is to try to find the incentives that will help lure the kinds of services that residents of Northdale — formed in 1956 — used to be able to walk to but now have to drive across town for.
But the dozen or so residents and community leaders in the audience at New Creation Church on Scenic Highway said shootings, vandalism and an atmosphere of hopelessness and a lack of opportunity are the most pressing problems.
Ray Smith, who lives on Ellerslie Drive, said Northdale residents “are living in fear.” “There needs to be a redevelopment of people’s mentality,” he said.
Tanisha Scott, a Northdale property owner who lives out of town but would like to return, said any work she does on the property she just bought is almost immediately targeted by vandals.
Scott’s mother, Lula Henderson, said she would like to know who owns three vacant Scenic Highway properties she maintains, a task quickly assigned to the RDA’s James Andermann.
Henderson said the area near her house is almost intolerable. “The crime is just so bad right there right now,” she said.
Shirley Harton, who lives on Pocahontas Street, said the city-parish isn’t doing enough to prevent Hiawatha and Pawnee streets from becoming dumping sites.
New Creation Pastor Cross Richard complained of blighted and abandoned buildings, which Monsour pointed out the RDA is specifically designed to deal with, not only through its land-acquisition and land-banking authority but its façade improvement program.
Monsour explained the organization is aware of the magnitude of these problems, and that the RDA’s mission of enticing private investment assumes that these problems are going to have to be dealt with along the way.
Monsour said the city-parish is going to have to commit its police and litter-control resources to the problems.
He said the RDA will have to use its gap financing and façade improvement programs, not to mention its ongoing effort to clear the titles of tax-delinquent properties, which it can assemble and sell to worthy developers and nonprofits.
BREC, Monsour said, is looking to donate some land to New Creation for a recreation center. Elected officials and nonprofits will have to make commitments to support incentive programs successful in other cities that the RDA tries to replicate here, he said.
Ultimately, Monsour said, “the marketplace is going to dictate all of this,” and private investors, even those motivated by doing good, aren’t going to make commitments unless they feel confident they’ll get a return.
Responding to complaints that the neighborhood needs a stronger voice, Monsour said the RDA can work with Northdale’s neighborhood association to help make it more effective.
The solutions, like the problems themselves, Monsour said, will not come overnight.