Advancing prosperity in the economically stressed north Baton Rouge area is in the best interest of everyone in the city. That’s why the current dispute about economic development in the area is so regrettable.
State Sen.-elect Regina Barrow, who has represented north Baton Rouge in the state House of Representatives, had passed legislation to create an economic development district that would pull together leaders to try to bring projects to the area. East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman John Delgado, who represents an affluent district in south Baton Rouge, is proposing a north Baton Rouge economic development district of his own, which envisions property tax breaks as an engine for development. Metro Councilwoman Chauna Banks-Daniel, with support of four other black councilwomen who represent parts of north Baton Rouge, tried unsuccessfully to delete Delgado’s proposal from an upcoming council meeting agenda. Banks-Daniel has described Delgado’s interest in north Baton Rouge as an attempt to court black voters to support a potential campaign for mayor. Others who oppose Delgado’s proposal have said it would conflict with Barrow’s ideas.
We’re less interested in the politics of this issue than its policy implications. The best way to explore Delgado’s idea is through a full and open debate among council members, and the unusual move to delete his proposal from a meeting agenda was counterproductive. Delgado, Barrow and many other leaders should be part of the discussion about north Baton Rouge’s future. Why not share ideas and work together, rather than turning what should be a common cause into a conflict about turf?
We aren’t entirely sold on the notion of a replica of the existing Downtown Development District for north Baton Rouge. The boundaries of the district promoted by Barrow 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.
While the Downtown Development District has an enviable record, an area that is more largely residential and widespread is not the same kind of urban animal as a downtown core.
It’s time for growth in north Baton Rouge, and there is more money there than many outsiders might expect. Strong, and potentially stronger, economic engines are in the area, including Southern University’s main campus and major employers in the petrochemical industry.
There can be a constructive role for government, as with Mayor-President Kip Holden’s efforts to revitalize downtown and, in New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s efforts to bring back retail in the city, where customers have for years gone to Jefferson Parish to shop. But government’s role must be focused and the costs carefully considered.
We’re glad that economic growth in north Baton Rouge is, at the least, on the radar screen.