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Jerry Jones, Executive Director of the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District, speaks at The Advocate's 2020 Economic Outlook Summit on Jan. 7, 2020 at the Manship Theatre. Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp is at left.

The Baton Rouge North Economic Development District is getting some outside help from an Alabama-based firm that specializes in attracting retail businesses to distressed communities. 

An important component of the work Retail Strategies will do is conduct research to determine how much north Baton Rouge is losing annually in consumer spending because of the lack of quality retail in the area, forcing its residents to travel to other parts of the city for their purchases. 

"In envisioning a grocery store here, this leakage report will help us prove there is capital here to spend in north Baton Rouge," said BRNEDD Executive Director Jerry Jones. 

Partnering with the retail recruitment firm is among the objectives Jones has outlined for economic development board this year. Others include a rebranding campaign for the organization, implementing a facade improvement program and pursuing a tax-increment financing designation for the community. 

The board, which oversees spending revenues from the 2% hotel tax for the district, has approved many of Jones' plans.

BRNEDD board member Gary Chambers said the work Retail Strategies is doing, most notably the leakage report, should provide solid proof to dispel any belief that north Baton Rouge, one of the city's designated food deserts, isn't viable for redevelopment because there isn't enough wealth in the community to sustain big-box retailers or quality grocery stores. 

"I think north Baton Rouge has been defined one way," Chambers said. "But there are a lot of families in the 70811 ZIP code with median income in the $48,000 a year range who have to drive to the College Drive area, or stop somewhere else on their way home from work, to buy groceries. But it's one thing to say, and another to prove it." 

BRNEDD is paying Retail Strategies approximately $45,000 annually. The results from the leakage report are expected to be released within a few months.

William Turnley, portfolio director for the firm, said the leakage report is just one facet of the work they'll do for the economic district. The data they cull for that report will serve as a tool to attract businesses and create jobs in north Baton Rouge. 

The firm will also conduct real estate analysis and knock on doors to gain a better understanding of the community's needs. 

In the meantime, Jones said, he intends to spend the year drumming up support among city-parish leaders for a tax-increment financing district in north Baton Rouge. TIF districts, as they are commonly known, return sales tax revenues to businesses to reduce construction debts, making it more attractive for developers to do projects in areas they wouldn't necessarily consider. TIFs proved to be a successful selling tool for the redevelopment of the downtown area. 

"This community fits the definition for a TIF district," Jones said. "I've already started having conversations with leaders and haven't been met with any opposition yet." 

Also, the district will soon undergo a rebranding that will include a name change to Impact North Baton Rouge, Jones said.

"It's important we give the public something to look forward to and fresh ideas of how we can envision north Baton Rouge and the impact it will have on the community," he said.


Email Terry Jones at tjones@theadvocate.com