Without discussion or explanation, the Metro Council on Wednesday unanimously approved creating a tax increment financing district to help defray construction costs of the of the $17 million Hampton Inn & Suites planned for downtown. “Financing has been a challenge, and this TIF contribution will help us secure our financing package,” says Bo Aughtry, commercial division president of Greenville, S.C.-based developer Windsor/Aughtry. “It is my hope we will start construction at the end of next month or the first of June.” The next step will be determining how much of the city’s 13% lodging tax will go toward the Hampton Inn. The city receives a 2% share of the tax, while the state gets 4% — most of which it refunds to the city — and the rest is split between the Baton Rouge Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (3%), public schools (2%), retirement of River Center bonds (1%) and road and sewer projects (0.5% each). Many local hoteliers as well as the lodging association had publicly opposed the Hampton Inn TIF. Though they had representatives at Wednesday’s meeting, no one spoke up during a public hearing before a vote was taken.
Meanwhile, the council also OK’d using a $1.5 million disaster recovery grant to partner with the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority in purchasing 200 acres in Mid City for the creation of the Smiley Heights development. The land, located north of the Bon Carré Business Center between Ardenwood Drive and Lobdell Boulevard, will be used to develop a mix of educational institutions, affordable housing, retail and commercial space. It costs $1.96 million and is owned by 11 nonprofits, with Tulane University the majority owner. A purchase agreement has been already been inked with Tulane, says redevelopment authority CEO Walter Monsour, who adds he’s confident additional agreements will soon be reached with the 10 other owners. A $460,000 grant from the East Baton Rouge Mortgage Finance Authority will also go toward the land purchase, Monsour says. Smiley Heights will include a $13 million expansion of the nearby Baton Rouge Community College and the development of a charter school called The Career Academy, which will integrate education and workforce training efforts. “This is about taking 200 acres of raw land and changing peoples’ lives,” says John Spain, Baton Rouge Area Foundation executive vice president. “It’s that simple.”
This story has been corrected since it was first published