There have been contentious fights and some tough times in Baton Rouge over the past dozen years, but we aren’t about to disagree with Mayor-President Kip Holden’s happiness with the outcome — a better city under his leadership.
“I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” Holden exulted in an interview after his annual talk to the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge.
Whether one agrees with Holden on specific issues, he’s the mayor, and his initiatives are in large part responsible for the growth and development of the parish.
Holden listed a lot of the positives in his talk to the Rotarians. Just after the New Year’s holiday, the success of Red Stick Revelry’s music festival drew more than 20,000 people downtown. The event came off with great flair and, significantly, no arrests at all.
“What other city in America can accomplish that?” he asked.
The mayor who loves the stage could not help but be enthused about quality-of-life events that have emerged or expanded in recent years in Baton Rouge. Those include the downtown Live After Five and Sunday in the Park concert series, Bayou Country Superfest at LSU and the Baton Rouge Blues Festival.
Holden is also, as might be imagined, an enthusiast of the film industry in town, saying the city averages $170 million a year in direct spending by television and movie productions.
While the crime problem remains a concern, Holden had data to show what the city-parish leadership is doing is working. Violent crime in Baton Rouge declined 21 percent, and property crime decreased 28 percent since 2005, Holden said.
He touted the BRAVE program, which targets high-crime areas, and the acquisition of the former Woman’s Hospital on Airline Highway as a cost-saving measure providing much-needed space for the Baton Rouge Police Department. Body cameras will be on police officers by the end of the year, he said.
Baton Rouge’s economy weathered the national recession that began in 2008 better than many other cities were able to do so, and it is still seeing growth and prosperity today. Even with its myriad traffic issues, voters’ approval in 2005 of the “green light” street bond issue was one of the most significant steps toward grappling with that problem.
Prosperity is evident in downtown: Over the past 10 years, $790 million in public dollars has been invested downtown, spurring an additional $1 billion in private investment, Holden said. There are now more than 1,000 hotel rooms downtown, and the city attracts about 1.5 million tourists every year.
Every city has a different recipe for success, and the person at the top is not the only contributor; Baton Rouge is fortunate to have had a strong and broadly based civic leadership that the mayor-president can tap into. Nor have all of Holden’s initiatives been successful.
But it’s more than luck alone, Mr. Mayor. The mayor’s hard work has paid off.