Wicker says redevelopment of Entergy site ‘is irrelevant’ because RDA has ‘lost sight of its mission’

The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority’s proposed redevelopment of the former Entergy site at 1509 Government St. is drawing sharp criticism from several African-American members of the Metro Council.

Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who represents the district that includes the 6.2-acre site, says she doesn’t have problems per se with renderings for the site unveiled by planner Andres Duany at a public meeting Monday night. Rather, she says, it’s the way the RDA has handled the matter to date. Wicker says the authority is moving forward to develop a commercial project that doesn’t take into account the needs of low-income residents of the surrounding area.

“We firmly believe the RDA has lost sight of its mission,” says Wicker, adding she has personally spoken with all of her African-American colleagues on the council and they share her views. “We don’t hate the project. The project is irrelevant at this juncture, but the focus of the project and the process by which the RDA has gone to do this is very questionable and hugely concerning to us.”

The site was given to the agency in 2013. Wicker says the mixed-use development plan that emerged includes   commercial and market-rate multifamily units. She says there is no provision in Duany’s plan for affordable housing.

And the councilwoman says there is a lack of communication between the RDA and council members who have gone to bat for the beleaguered agency over the years.

“We have not had one meeting with the RDA since (former CEO) Walter (Monsour) left last November,” Wicker says. “We have not had one meeting with (RDA interim president and CEO) Gwen Hamilton. I found out about the project and all of this by way of the news. We were the ones who put our reputation on the line so at minimum there should have been some consideration for the councilwomen who helped the RDA get formed. That there wasn’t is a slap in the face.”

Hamilton was taken aback by Wicker’s comments, which she says came after a cordial conversation at Monday night’s forum.

“I am very surprised. This has been a very public process since the beginning,” Hamilton says. “Councilwoman Wicker did attend a design charrette with Duany in December, which was my first week on the job.”

Hamilton says the Entergy site represents a “wonderful opportunity to turn an abandoned vacant building into a catalytic icon” that will improve the quality of life of everyone in the area. She says the RDA continues to explore  affordable housing issues with several nonprofit agencies.

—Stephanie Riegel

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