Making Baton Rouge more sustainable, with a focus on environmentally friendly building and developments centered around public transit, is a key to improving the economic opportunities of everyone who lives in the city, the head of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority said Wednesday.
Chris Tyson told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge that the cities experiencing the highest levels of rising economic fortunes and population growth, such as Atlanta and Portland, have embraced new forms of urban development. In those cities, the local redevelopment authorities are charting the course for growth.
“The redevelopment authority is the best opportunity to build a more vibrant, resilient and equitable Baton Rouge,” Tyson said.
When Tyson took over as head of the authority in January 2018, the future of the agency was finally beginning to brighten after several years of cloudiness. The organization was without a stable source of funding under former East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Kip Holden. But Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome gave it $500,000 in funding for 2018 and put the organization in charge of Community Development Block Grant funds, which previously had been overseen by the city-parish Office of Community Development.
Tyson said the agency grew from one other employee at the start of 2018 to eight full-time workers and two part-time staffers. And the city-parish land bank, which allows for distressed, under-utilized property to be held while agency staffers and attorneys work to clear the title, has grown from 29 to 119 lots.
“There’s a real opportunity to do innovative work,” Tyson said.
While south Baton Rouge has grown rapidly since Hurricane Katrina, Tyson notes the northern part of the city has experienced no meaningful development. The RDA hopes to change that.
One of the major redevelopment projects the RDA is working on is the Ardendale urban village in Melrose East. That development is a finalist for a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Officials from HUD were in Baton Rouge on Wednesday to meet with Tyson and visit Ardendale.
If the grant is awarded, the city-parish intends to leverage the money to create more than $335.5 million in planned investments for the neighborhood.