Officials with St. John the Baptist Parish on Monday announced establishment of the parish's first Cultural District Coalition, a community partnership that marks the latest step in an ongoing effort to spur revitalization and secure coveted state tax credits.

The coalition's formation comes four months after the Parish Council voted to create four cultural districts in Reserve, Garyville and LaPlace and along the River Road.

The parish applied to the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development in March for official state recognition of those areas as cultural districts, which also include the communities of Edgard, Lucy and Wallace.

If they are approved, residents and business owners within the districts would become eligible for both state historic rehabilitation tax credits and tax exemptions on the sale of original works of art.

Parish President Natalie Robottom said the new designations would fortify an already strong bond between the parish and local artists and provide new incentives for artists to live and work in St. John.

As an example, Robottom has pointed to the River Road corridor on the parish's West Bank, which has numerous historic plantations. That area could "easily" qualify for the tax credits and incentives because it's an "arts and cultural area already," she told council members earlier this year.

"For many years, we’ve touted our rich heritage and culture," Robottom said in a statement Monday. "Establishing a Cultural District Coalition is an opportunity to help preserve it for many years to come."

Coalition members will consist of local stakeholders, community leaders and staff from several parish departments, Robottom said.

The coalition is slated to meet quarterly.

According to the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the Louisiana cultural district program has provided business opportunities for government, opened new markets for artists, increased artistic production and encouraged renovations of older buildings in 35 parishes since it was created by the Legislature in 2007.

An annual report released in 2016 showed 83 cultural districts had been certified in 54 towns throughout the state.

The report shows a strong return on investment, especially through state historic tax credits, which were created to "spark renovations and reuse" of buildings for cultural purposes.

By the end of 2016, a total of 611 projects using state historic tax credits had been completed throughout the state, the report found. Altogether, $350 million awarded in tax credits for those projects yielded about $1.9 billion in investment.

A resolution to create the St. John cultural districts was passed unanimously by the council in February.

Councilwoman Julia Remondet has been one of the initiative's biggest proponents, saying the cultural districts will also help spur the creation of historic districts throughout the parish.

Remondet was among several council members who last year pushed to establish the parish's Historic Preservation Study Committee, tasked with developing recommendations on how to preserve places that local residents and the National Register of Historic Places deem to have historic value.

Among other goals, St. John council members hope to lift property values and get new funding from the state for planning and economic development projects.

Alex Carter, the parish director for planning and zoning, told council members earlier this year that the two goals will "build on each other" by offering several layers of incentives and access to tax breaks and credits.

"It’s a step in the right direction if we’re looking ahead," Carter said.

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