Is the Electric Depot project a model for redevelopment?

    The Electric Depot development between downtown and Mid City represents a model for blight elimination, affordable housing and the type of mixed-use “destination” project that can transform the city, the people behind the project said today.

    Speaking at the Center for Planning Excellence’s Smart Growth Summit, those working on the project outlined exactly how they plan on turning an historic, dilapidated set of buildings once home to Entergy into a thriving and vibrant commercial property at the “heart” of Baton Rouge.

    The project has been one of the most high-profile projects undertaken by the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, which has an ambitious vision for the site.

    Those promises remain to be seen. Gwen Hamilton, interim director of the RDA, noted the project is a large undertaking with an arduous and lengthy process. Talks about the site originally began some seven years ago, and the developer only last week received building permits.

    But if the project pans out like the RDA and developer Weinstein Nelson Management envision, it could prove instructive for those in redevelopment circles, as well as to those looking for solutions to Baton Rouge’s enduring blight problems and lack of affordable housing.

    A successful delivery of the project would also help legitimize the RDA, which has struggled with funding and other problems over the years and is currently experiencing a slew of changes, including a new director in Chris Tyson, who will likely take over in January.

    Developer Dyke Nelson outlined the web of people who have “skin in the game” with the project, as well as the litany of tax incentives he received to help make it work. Among those are historic tax credits, federal financing for affordable housing and tax breaks for energy efficiency.

    “We all came with the same purpose in mind,” Nelson said. “It needs to be financially viable. No doubt. … But we’re all very interested in what happens to this site.”

    Amanda Spain Wells, a lawyer with Baker Donelson who has worked on the project, detailed how the agreement between Nelson’s firm and the RDA will help the project get off the ground in the short term and pay dividends to the RDA for the next 50 years.

    The agreement was designed to make sure the developer is held accountable for following through with the project, in line with the RDA’s vision. Unlike many public-private partnerships, Wells says the RDA will retain possession of the land with a 50-year ground lease. Monthly lease payments will send a stream of funding to the RDA, and will allow the agency to take back the land if the development falls through.

    Phase one of Electric Depot, which will be completed no later than December of 2018, according to Nelson, will feature a three-story entertainment center along with a brew pub as well as retail and apartments. Phase two will feature additional residential units, including affordable housing.

    All told, Nelson says his firm will likely spend more than $20 million on the project.

    —Sam Karlin

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