EBR Redevelopment Authority consultant to outline possible new directions for agency

The consultant working on a new business plan for the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority expects to have a completed report by early summer that will outline a series of possible new directions for the embattled agency.

“I am very optimistic it will be a report that is actionable and will show people what the possibilities are for the RDA,” says Christel Slaughter, whose SSA Consultants is writing the business plan. “It’s so obvious to us that Baton Rouge badly needs an effective RDA and there are many organizations that want to partner with the RDA and the opportunities for collaboration are great, so it just has to sort of re-tool and build itself up.”

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation retained SSA late last year to study the RDA and help it devise a sustainable business plan. The six-year-old agency came under fire last year by Mayor Kip Holden and some on the Metro Council because it is running out of money and has yet to identify a permanent source of funding or develop a business model to support itself.

Slaughter says part of the RDA’s challenge will be to decide how it wants to go about the business of redevelopment and then focus its limited resources on that particular area. Some of the RDA’s peer agencies primarily attack blighted property. Others try to stimulate economic development through large land-based projects. The East Baton Rouge RDA has tried to do both, tackling blighted property in select neighborhoods and tackling major projects  such as the Ardendale community and the 1509 Government project.

“What the experts are telling us, as we research this subject, is that you’ve got to figure out your focus,” she says. “If you’re doing blight elimination you’ve got to focus on that. If you’re going to do redevelopment you’ve got to have resources focused on that. It’s kind of like, what do you want to do when you grow up?”

Slaughter says she is heartened by the level of cooperation and collaboration she has seen among stakeholders and other agencies that are helping her team with the plan. It speaks to the level of interest the community has in the RDA and the work it does. She also says the community, including elected officials, may need to be “re-educated” about how the business of redevelopment actually works.

“Redevelopment projects take time and don’t develop their own revenue streams overnight,” she says. “I think some education is going to have to go along with that about what is realistic and what is not. RDAs don’t make money off of blight, and there are some people in town who had misconceptions about that.”

—Stephanie Riegel

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