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This lot, at Seneca and Osceola Streets and close to the intersection of Choctaw Drive and Plank Road, is shown on the story graphic as being the site of a proposed zoning change to allow for a convenience/liquor store seen Friday looking south toward Choctaw Drive, Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020.

The city-parish's redevelopment authority is set to receive $5 million in competitive grant funding to jumpstart an array of projects the agency announced a year ago in its revitalization plan for the Plank Road corridor.

Among the list of proposed uses for the grant, which comes from JPMorgan Chase's Advancing Cities Challenge, is developing a grocery store-anchored mixed use development and upgrading up to 15 building facades along the North Baton Rouge corridor. 

Baton Rouge is one of seven cities this year to receive funds from JPMorgan's $500 million five-year initiative, geared toward supporting solutions to complex systemic challenges such as racial inequity and income.

"Sometimes those are difficult conversations for people to have locally (but) this is where the cutting edge is," said Chris Tyson, president and CEO of Build Baton Rouge. "Our ambitions of being a progressive city will not be taken seriously if we don't address these issues and speak this language of race and class, and how they play out geographically in our city."    

Plank Road is located within one of Baton Rouge's predominately Black parts of town that has become a focus of various revitalization efforts and city-parish initiatives after years of disinvestment. It has been designated a food desert for its lack of healthy food options and plagued with poverty, blight and crime.  

Last year, Build Baton Rouge released its master plan for Plank Road, once a thriving hub of business and commerce, aimed at restoring a 4.3-mile section of Plank Road, stretching from 22nd Street to Harding Boulevard/Hooper Road, back to its former glory. 

A core component of that plan is the proposed bus rapid transit. Last year, the city-parish locked in $15 million in federal grants to partially fund the estimated $40 million project.

"We chose the Build Baton Rouge Collaborative because the Plank Road master plan embodies everything we look for in the Advancing Cities Challenge," Erika Wright, head of philanthropy for JPMorgan Chase in Louisiana, said in a news release. "It tackles big problems by beginning with small, impactful efforts. It's unapologetic about advancing racial equity and closing the gaps that limit opportunity."

Build Baton Rouge has partnered with Metromorphosis, a non-profit organization involved in urban revitalization, TruFund Financial Services and Co-City Baton Rouge to execute its vision for Plank Road. 

Projects on tap include a mixed-use development with more than 40 affordable housing units and a grocery store along the rapid bus line, renovating a 3,500 square-foot historic building into a food incubator, and providing financial and technical support to 15 new and existing minority-owned businesses.

There are also plans to transform a 4,000 square-foot vacant lot into a community park through Build Baton Rouge's partnership with the city-parish's parks and recreation agency and preserving housing affordability through the creation of a community trust fund.

"In 2021, we'll be ready to break ground on a number of these projects," Tyson said. "This is a signal to our investors that 'hey, there's a major player here who we believe in and we're putting serious resources behind it.'"

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