Organizers hope to begin construction on at least one of the six major projects aimed at transforming a section of Plank Road within the next year.

The Plank Road redevelopment plan was unveiled Tuesday during a standing-room-only event at the Valdry Center for Philanthropy at Southern University. It was developed after nearly a year of meetings with stakeholders and aims to revitalize a 4.3-mile section of Plank Road, stretching from 22nd Street to Harding Boulevard/Hooper Road.

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston-Broome said the plan is the fulfillment of a promise to ensure that everyone lives in a safe and prosperous community.

“We are ensuring the places you call home receive the same care, same respect and same resources as other parts of the city parish,” she said. “A city can not truly be great if it has cracks in its foundation.”

Tuesday's event is just the beginning, said Chris Tyson, president and chief executive officer of Build Baton Rouge, the parish’s redevelopment authority. The hard work of implementing the plan and the policy changes to help make it a reality is next.

"We want you to hold us accountable," he said. 

The six projects outlined in the plan are:

  • A mixed use development near Plank and Mohican Street that will include a 15,000-square-foot grocery store, a pharmacy, residential units and space for food entrepreneurs. A year from now, Tyson said he hopes there is "some clarity" as to which grocery store will take up the space. 
  • A 22,000-square-foot civic center across Plank from the grocery store development. Along with space for community events, Tyson said there will be digital labs for job hunters and people who want to start businesses.
  • A 30,000-square-foot mixed use development on Plank, between Oswego and Calumet streets, that would house the offices of Build Baton Rouge, a YWCA child care center and 15-16 mixed income housing units.
  • An essential human services development near Plank and Choctaw Drive done in conjunction with St. Vincent de Paul. This could include emergency housing, an expanded St. Vincent de Paul thrift store and retail space.
  • A transit oriented development at the northwest corner of Plank and Choctaw. While Build Baton Rouge controls parcels of lands at all the other catalytic development sites, the organization does not own the land and would need to work with a developer.
  • A pocket park and pop-up retail space at Plank and Navajo Street.

“This is a broad, comprehensive effort aimed at creating an equitable development plan for the city’s most blighted and disinvested corridor,” Tyson said.

A core component of the plan is the proposed bus rapid transit. The city-parish has committed $17 million for the express bus, which would run from Plank and Airline Highway to LSU. The plan is to use the money to get $15 million in federal transit funds; Tyson said the city-parish hopes to get a decision on the match by the end of the year.

The bus rapid transit plan, which would cost between $40 million and $50 million to establish, is the anchor for establishing other segments of the comprehensive plan, such as economic, community and land development. Last year, the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council approved plans for Build Baton Rouge to acquire 85 adjudicated properties in the Plank Road corridor that were seized for nonpayment of property taxes and put it in a land bank. The goal is to use to develop the properties for commercial or residential means that work along with the transit development.

Even if the federal transit money doesn't happen, the redevelopment plan will occur. After all, the city-parish has already committed a significant amount of money. But officials are confident of receiving the money because they are putting up more than they are requesting.

Plank Road residents who attended the presentation said they liked what they heard. 

“I’m very excited,” said Nikki P. Williams, who grew up around Plank Road and said her father taught her how to drive on the street. She said the plan is something the area needs.

James Holden, who owns the EZ Pak N Serv convenience store at Plank and Winnebago Street, said he’s concerned about the time frame for the developments. Holden said he would like to see activity happen sooner rather than later.

“We’ve seen things like this done around Baton Rouge in other areas,” he said. “I think it’s possible.”

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