The phrase “game-changer” is maybe becoming a bit of a cliché, but it is appropriate for a huge new federal grant to aid in the revitalization of Smiley Heights and Melrose East just north of Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge.
But if the new grant is big news and a big assist, there have been a lot of other game-changers — residents, philanthropists and officials — who have been active in the area they hope will see a rebirth as Ardendale.
The $30 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development was years in the making and involved a large-scale collaboration among the game-changers. The award is to the Housing Authority and city-parish for improvements in almost two square miles in the center of Baton Rouge’s urban area.
Investments into the neighborhoods have come from philanthropies like the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, with major new educational opportunities for the area in the McKay Automotive Training Center on Lobdell, part of Baton Rouge Community College, and the East Baton Rouge Schools Career and Technology Center.
The grant will build on earlier successes — and these innovative schools are great success stories — by improving housing and the physical appearance of the area. But the Choice Neighborhood initiative is a long-term plan by the Housing Authority and its many partners to do a lot more: a YWCA early learning center, an elementary level charter school, magnet programs in existing schools and youth enrichment programs like dance, music and culinary skills. Resources for adults and seniors are also part of the master plan.
J. Wesley Daniels Jr. of the Housing Authority said it’s a five-year plan to fully implement, but the benefits to the residents are going to be significant.
There has already been more private investment in the area and we are confident that implementation of the new grant will provide even more momentum.
One of the players in the many groups involved is the parish Redevelopment Authority, recently renamed Build Baton Rouge. Its founding board chairman, John Noland, has stepped down and will be honored by Mid City Redevelopment Alliance with wife Virginia on Oct. 24.
As Mid City’s director Sam Sanders says, “John and Virginia Noland helped create the modern community development movement in Baton Rouge,” and a lot of their efforts went into the Ardendale area.
The Nolands will receive the Rev. Mary E. Moody Award for Lifetime Achievement. That is named for one of the community’s most respected leaders and is one of the city’s premier civic honors.
These have been game-changers in Baton Rouge and particularly in the Ardendale area that will have significant new funding through the HUD Choice Neighborhood grant.