The Downtown Development District’s board of commissioners will consider expanding the DDD into two adjacent areas — one to the north and east into Northdale and the area around Memorial Stadium and the second to the south along Nicholson Drive.
The options were part of a strategic plan presented to the DDD’s board at its monthly meeting Tuesday, with the vote to take place next month.
The vote, however, will only be to pursue the initiatives within the plan, many of which require approval of the city-parish, the state Legislature or a vote of property owners.
Executive Director Davis Rhorer said the process of expanding the DDD’s boundaries would need all three and would take at least 18 months.
After first getting the blessing of the city-parish, Rhorer said, “it really doesn’t change until you go to the Legislature, and that could not happen until 2012, so it’s not anything pending real soon.”
Rhorer said the plan is essentially a response to recommendations in Plan Baton Rouge Phase II, which was completed a few years ago. The plan was crafted by DDD staff and a committee made up of some of the DDD’s seven board members, along with help from SSA Consultants.
Other recommendations include pursuing new funding sources in the form of new and rededicated taxes; adding staff; creating a design resource center; and offering developers new economic incentive packages.
As for the possible boundaries expansion, the area to the north and east includes vacant industrial property, the Northdale community and Memorial Stadium. The possible southward expansion along Nicholson Drive was recommended by national planning consultant John Fregonese, who is leading the Future BR planning initiative.
Rhorer wouldn’t say what he would recommend, noting the plan was just presented to the board, but he also shot down the assumption that pursuing both areas is a foregone conclusion.
“I think that’s still up for discussion, to be honest with you,” he said of the newly added southern portion.
Rhorer noted the area has been well mapped out via new investment outside the South Gate of LSU; a private developer owning much of the property on the west side of Nicholson; and a streetcar line that is called for in Future BR, though not yet funded.
“One way or another, whether we go down there or not, we’re going to be involved,” he said, noting Plan Baton Rouge Phase II calls for working with initiatives just outside the district.
The DDD has done more work looking into the northeastern expansion, which has Rhorer intrigued.
Northdale would bring in a significant residential component. The BREC-owned Memorial Stadium provides the opportunity for developing athletic amenities, including a public running track. And, the industrial properties just to the north of downtown could be developed to provide a blue-collar employment base for downtown.
“There are active things going on there now and I don’t want to diminish that at all,” Rhorer said of the industrial area. “But I do think there is some room for improvements there.”
As for new funding sources, the plan calls for the DDD to look into requesting the state dedicate to downtown 2 cents of the 4-cent sales tax collected in the district; increasing the 10-mill DDD tax by 2.5 mills; and raising the city sales tax within the district by 0.25 percent. These increases would generate an additional $312,000 a year in the DDD’s existing footprint.
Rhorer said the existing 10-mill tax contributed $470,000 to 2011 budgeted revenue of $617,000, with the difference coming from the city-parish.
At the existing 10-mill rate, the northeastern portion would be worth $60,000 a year and the southern portion $22,000 per year.
Assuming all funding increases were achieved, the northeastern portion would be worth $204,000 per year and the southern portion $157,500.
As for staff increases, Rhorer said there are no specific recommendations yet, though he said it would likely be adding a second administrative assistant and project manager to his existing staff of three. A design resource center would be a storefront downtown that could accommodate classes from LSU and Southern and promote the incentives available downtown to developers and the public.
In other business, Lafayette-based Mexican restaurant chain El Azteca will come downtown in the former Little Village site on Lafayette Street. Owner Johnny Mekari said in an email to the DDD that he will put a balcony on the south side of the building. El Azteca operated at Hammond Aire on Airline Highway for about five years.