East Baton Rouge RDA getting by on shoestring budget

    The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority is continuing to go about the business of putting blighted properties back into commerce and applying for grants to help fund infill redevelopment projects. The RDA recently took title to three blighted properties—one each in Scotlandville, Zion City and Old South Baton Rouge—it will turn over to community development organizations in the coming weeks.

    The RDA has also applied for grant funding to hire a consultant to design a detailed plan for the redevelopment of the six-acre former Entergy site at 1509 Government St., which is expected to be a catalyst for redevelopment in the area. Planning guru Andres Duany completed a visioning plan for the project earlier this year, but it does not include specific details.

    Still, the agency is operating on a much smaller scale than it did for its first five years in business—until former CEO Walter Monsour stepped down amidst criticism about the agency’s financial situation in late 2014. In the months since, several key staffers have left the agency and the RDA has been operating on a shoestring budget. But Interim Executive Director Gwen Hamilton, who took over in December, says her staff of five has enough money to keep the doors open until a long-term funding source can be identified.

    SSA Consultants has been working for months on a detailed business plan for the RDA that will suggest several business models and identify potential funding sources for the agency. That plan is expected any day.

    In the meantime, Hamilton says the RDA is working with four community development organizations on redeveloping more than 100 blighted properties throughout the city. It has also been laying the groundwork for future plans to develop Ardendale, an urban village planned for the former Smiley Heights neighborhood off Florida Boulevard.

    The Baton Rouge Community College east campus that will anchor Ardendale is currently under construction and structures are now visible, which gives the redeveloping neighborhood an exciting feel, Hamilton says. The city-parish is also applying for a federal Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhoods Grant to help jump start redevelopment of high-quality, mixed-income housing in the surrounding neighborhood. The grants are due in November and awards of up to $30 million will be made in late 2016.

    —Stephanie Riegel

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