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Ardenwood Village at 1957 N. Ardenwood Drive, seen Thursday, August 30, 2018. East Baton Rouge city-parish is applying for a $30 million grant to improve an area that includes Melrose East.

One of Baton Rouge’s historically neglected communities is a step closer to transformation thanks to a $30 million federal grant to revitalize distressed neighborhoods and enhance economic development.

The funds are earmarked for Ardenwood Village, the roughly 2-square-mile area on either side of Ardenwood Drive between Choctaw Drive and Florida Boulevard and includes neighborhoods like Melrose East and Smiley Heights.

The city-parish has said it plans to use the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money to redevelop the Housing Authority’s Ardenwood Village apartments, develop a 168-unit housing community called Cypress at Ardendale, create housing demolition and neighborhood beautification initiatives, and add a technical high school and an automotive training center.

“The plan highlighted resilience, placemaking, and innovation, and I’m confident this is why the HUD chose Baton Rouge for this incredible award,” Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said in a statement Friday.

Various city-parish agencies, organizations and congressional delegates have been working behind the scenes for years on plans to redevelop the area. Those plans include initiatives to lower crime, boost homeownership and increase employment.

Baton Rouge is one of only four cities to receive the highly-competitive Choice Neighborhoods grant, which was announced by U.S. Sens. John Kennedy and Bill Cassidy.

"This grant will … help improve the quality of life for hundreds of Louisiana families," Kennedy said in a news release Friday. "Neighborhoods should provide families with community and give kids a safe place to ride their bikes and play with their friends. The Choice Neighborhoods grant is a significant investment into the Baton Rouge economy, and it will help make the Ardenwood Village a more welcoming place for families to call home."

Cassidy added: "This grant brings critical housing, health and education resources to those in need of help."

The Choice Neighborhoods grants support communities that have completed the planning process and are prepared to implement the transformation phase for neighborhood redevelopment, according to the news release issued jointly by Kennedy and Cassidy.

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HUD officials took a tour of the Ardendale site in February to see first-hand the challenges the community has faced and how the proposed plans drafted through a collaborative effort by the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority, the city-parish’s Redevelopment Authority and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation would improve the community.

Housing Authority Executive Director J. Daniels Jr. said Friday he could not comment on the grant or the project until HUD makes its official announcement to city, which he expects to happen Monday.

BRAF Executive Vice President John Spain said it’s rare a city gets this kind of money to focus on a single neighborhood project.

“Some really important things we’ve dreamed about are about to place,” Spain said. “We know the proven path out of poverty is through education.”

The plan includes additions of a YWCA early learning center, an elementary-level charter school, magnet programs in existing schools, and programs to teach children about dance, music and culinary skills. There will also be educational resources for adults through job fairs and providers to help adults prepare for GED exams. For seniors, the community would have its own senior center and Meals on Wheels programs.

“They’ll be a lot of momentum at the site that will bring about other opportunities,” Spain said.

A portion of Broome’s $1 billion MovEBR roads improvement plan includes clearing a 200-acre undeveloped site in the community and building a road that stretches from Lobdell Boulevard to Ardenwood Drive, he said.

“With that road going through, developers and community partners can look at what other opportunities can happen on that land,” Spain said.

The community plan would be implemented over a 10-year span. The coalition of city-parish agencies and philanthropists hope to raise additional money to complete the entire scope of the project which is pegged around $200 million.


Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.