A coalition of local nonprofit groups and developers is urging Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell to seek to create a dedicated city fund to attract retailers to struggling neighborhoods and leverage private money to help new and existing businesses get off the ground.
Even though there is no shortage of groups hoping to advise Cantrell as she prepares to take office in May, this one seems well positioned to have its ideas heard, as several of its members are on her official transition team.
That team’s talks thus far have been shrouded in secrecy, thanks in part to a nondisclosure directive Cantrell said is designed to encourage frank discussion among those involved.
However, the publicly available neighborhood revitalization strategy, commissioned by the nonprofit group Broad Community Connections and advised in part by seven members of Cantrell’s advisory team, is a window into at least some of their discussions.
Jeff Schwartz, of Broad Community — who is not on the transition team — said one of the group’s chief recommendations is to create a permanent dedicated source of funding at City Hall to revamp commercial corridors.
Past such investments have been piecemeal, such as those that have helped revitalize stretches of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in Central City and Broad Street near Mid-City, he said.
“It’s not like it’s a perfect document that you have to take wholesale, but we are trying to get as many concepts in it adopted by the new administration as possible,” he said.
Moreover, Cantrell herself has given a hint that she seems to like the Broad group’s recommendations, saying last week that she “could not think of a greater time” to unveil the strategy.
“I’m excited because many of the recommendations in this strategy are ... embedded in this (transition) process of that committee that is focused on small business growth,” she said.
In all, more than 40 people advised on creation of the neighborhood strategy, which was unveiled last week.
One of its recommendations is for the city to dedicate $250,000 annually to revitalize up to five commercial corridors. The money would be awarded to nonprofit groups, which would partner with business development organizations to ensure their revamp plans are up to speed.
The business groups would in turn get grants of $15,000 apiece. The city also would hire a person to oversee the new program and help grantees implement strategies that promote racial and economic equity, a program requirement.
The program would be housed under the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, which would receive assistance from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, the Regional Transit Authority, the NOLA Business Alliance and other groups, according to the recommendations.
Overall, the city would spend up to $500,000 annually on the grant program.
Coalition members also are asking Cantrell to consider creating another fund, of up to $500,000, to help existing business owners buy their properties and to bring new businesses into vacant spaces. A community development financial institution, such as a credit union or Liberty Bank, could bring in more funding to support that effort.
Recognizing that the new businesses will need customers, the strategy also calls for housing development plans for each commercial corridor that is approved. Those plans, for up to $25,000 per corridor, could be funded by either public or private money.
Separately, the Redevelopment Authority’s Facade Renew program, which helps renovate storefronts on O.C. Haley, Bayou Road, St. Claude Avenue and Old Gentilly Road, would be expanded to support interior improvements. That program was already on track to support additional storefront renovations along sections of North Broad, St. Bernard Avenue, Basin Street and Alcee Fortier Boulevard in 2018.
The whole plan draws from best practices in other U.S. cities, such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., those involved said. Supported by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Broad Community Connections commissioned consultant Karl Seidman to conduct the research that underlies it.
Overall, the group’s hope is that businesses in neighborhoods that have been excluded from investment priority lists, due to limited funding, zoning or other reasons, can have a fair shake at a facelift, Schwartz said.
“It shouldn’t matter where in the city you are,” he said. “All neighborhoods can come back in the same way that Oretha Castle Haley and Broad Street did.”