The two catalyst areas key to revitalizing the Zion City/Glen Oaks neighborhood include a large tract at Harding Boulevard and Plank Road for commercial development and Ford and Simplex streets for single-family homes and senior apartments.
That was the plan put forward Tuesday by the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority in a presentation to about 40 neighborhood residents gathered at the ExxonMobil YMCA at Howell Place.
The RDA’s strategy for the Plank and Harding area is to work with landowner Richard Preis to bring commercial development on the west side of Plank and to help with the financing of senior apartments on the east side with the Idaho developer of the nearby Hooper Pointe apartments and the Hooper Springs senior apartments that will be completed next year.
That developer, Community Development Inc., is trying to acquire the second tract that makes up the first catalyst area and already has a relationship with the RDA in the form of a $450,000 loan approved by the RDA last month.
Further down Ford Street, which project manager Susanna Bing said is considered the heart of Zion City, the plan calls for a steady process of building single-family homes on empty lots along Ford and down Simplex, which will be extended into Hooper Pointe and Hooper Springs. Farther down Simplex, more infill single-family development and some town homes and assisted- and independent-living complexes are planned.
At Simplex and Ford, a new crosswalk and three commercial buildings with an outdoor seating area and a farmers market are proposed.
Tuesday’s meeting was part of the RDA’s rollout of plans for its five community improvement plans: Scotlandville; Northdale; the Choctaw corridor; Zion City/Glen Oaks; and Melrose East.
RDA President and Chief Executive Officer Walter Monsour once again stressed that the plans are not about the government coming in and building all these homes and buildings. It is instead a blueprint based on community input that the RDA and the city-parish will work to make a reality by motivating nonprofits and private developers to invest their own risk capital.
Among the tools at the RDA’s disposal are façade improvement grants, gap financing, new market tax credits, land banking and the power to free up the titles to properties seized by the city-parish for nonpayment of taxes.
But Monsour cautioned that raising the economic fortunes of the area is going to be a 15- to 20-year process.
“Unfortunately, it’s going to take a lot of time and it’s going to take a lot of money,” he said, though he noted the RDA is forming a consortium with the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency and the East Baton Rouge Housing Authority and working closely with the local Office of Community Development to make it happen.
The goal with all the community improvement plans, Monsour said, is to “recreate the neighborhoods that made Baton Rouge great.” He noted Baton Rouge is late to the redevelopment game, but said that just gives it more successful models to emulate, notably Richmond, Va., which has a similar population in size and demographics.
Monsour said he has had one conversation with Preis, but said that without specific plans for what kinds of commercial development would go in he’s confident there is room to work. He said Preis has shown his commitment to North Baton Rouge with his development of Howell Place and he’s confident that the RDA can bring enough to the table to work with him.
Once the catalyst areas get going, Bing said, the RDA will focus on bringing in services such as a grocery, a clinic, a pharmacy, a hardware store and day care services to the area, as well as more sit-down restaurants. The RDA will also be pursuing grants to extend a proposed trail system that would link the neighborhood to Hooper Road Park to the north and Scotlandville Parkway to the south.
Bing said pedestrian-friendly access to Glen Oaks Middle School and the nearby BREC park are a priority as well.