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 of the city-parish’s African-American Metro Council members.

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

“We firmly believe the RDA has lost sight of its mission,” Wicker says. “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.”

Specifically, Wicker says she and others have problems with the way the RDA has decided the former Entergy property—which was given to the agency in 2013—would best be redeveloped as a mixed-use project that includes commercial and market-rate multifamily units. Also, Duany’s plans didn’t include any mention of affordable housing.

Also at issue is what Wicker says is a lack of communication between the RDA and the 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 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 is 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 work on affordable housing issues with several nonprofit agencies in the community.

—Stephanie Riegel

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