Baton Rouge proud of early results from Redevelopment Authority

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POSTED: Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 7:28pm

UPDATED: Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 7:34pm

After three years and millions of dollars, leaders of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority finally presented the results of its efforts.

At a gathering Thursday morning, the agency said this was a day it had been waiting for.

"We have long looked forward to the day," said John Nolan, chairman of the organization, "where we could start making public announcements about our work, but we didn't want to do so when all we had was promise."

The Redevelopment Authority aims to revitalize poorer neighborhoods by providing gap financing for construction projects and tax credits for business expansion.

Nolan said it has spent $19.7 million, which has turned into approximately $200 million of investment around the parish. Those projects have either created or saved 3,350 jobs, leading to more than $130 million in income and nearly $18 million in new tax revenue.

Putting that money into low-income, predominantly black neighborhoods, is part of the Redevelopment Authority's social mission, according to its leaders.

"Too much of our assets are in the hands of people that look like me," Nolan said, "and too few of our assets of the African American community, who don't have a square deal, a fair chance."

Some city leaders mentioned Thursday that reducing blight and creating safer housing would mitigate Baton Rouge's crime problem.

Some people who live in neighborhoods targeted by the RDA, such as Smiley Heights, Melrose East, and Northdale, say they look forward to further reconstruction and help from the parish. But they believe their neighbors are partly to blame for the conditions of their neighborhoods, particularly younger residents.

"They let these people's houses get tore up," Estelle Dunn said of her younger neighbors. "They ain't thinking about their mother's and father's house. And I be trying to tell mine, 'I know I got to go home one day. And I want mine to be right.'"

The RDA said it went around the country for inspiration, visiting cities such as Portland, OR and Richmond, VA. Then it spent 18 months getting input from community leaders on how to remake Baton Rouge. Mayor-president Kip Holden believes the result is redefining Baton Rouge.

"We will become the standard-bearer for other communities throughout the nation," Holden said. "And I promise you, other communities will be coming to Baton Rouge to say, 'how were you able to pull all of these things off? How were you able to do this?'"

The RDA said its financing has led to 760 new, affordable apartments being built in its target neighborhoods, just over half its original goal of 1,500.

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