The Baton Rouge North Economic Development District board on Tuesday officially began its work to revitalize the north Baton Rouge by attracting development, and announced it will soon select a permanent executive director.
The district, which includes much of the area north of Florida Blvd., was created by state Sen. Regina Barrow in 2015 and refined in 2016. On Dec. 10, voters in the area passed a 2% occupancy tax for hotels in the district, which will generate around $261,000 per year for the district.
The 13 member board is composed of north Baton Rouge developers, business owners and community leaders. ExxonMobil Public and Governmental Affairs Manager Stephanie Cargile is representing the company, which is the largest landowner in the district, on the board as well. Ron Smith, executive director of the ExxonMobil YMCA in north Baton Rouge, was selected chairman on Tuesday, and former Metro Councilwoman Lori Burgess was selected to be secretary.
Tony’s Seafood co-owner Bill Pizzolato, Next Generation Pioneers founder Dezmion Barrow and The Rouge Collection Publisher Gary Chambers are also among the board members. So is Richard Preis, a longtime developer in north Baton Rouge whose 200 acre Howell Place near Plank Road and Harding Blvd. is home to hotels, apartments and restaurants.
“The growth in our parish is going to be on the north end,” Preis says.
Preis notes north Baton Rouge has one of the largest Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the country in Southern University, as well as easy access to the interstate, an airport and ExxonMobil—all of which should be compelling selling points to investors. Preis says he will announce two large projects in the coming weeks, as the board sets forth in remaking the area and figuring out how to attract more developers.
Burgess says the board will be modeled loosely after the Downtown Development District, which has found success bolstering investment downtown. Chambers adds the new board should be able to receive the same amount of money from the city-parish as the DDD, and the board decided to meet with Mayor-elect Sharon Broome to work out the details.
Rinaldi Jacobs, who has informally led the charge of organizing the district’s and board’s operations, was selected interim executive director. The board will accept applications for a permanent director until Jan. 15.
The board touched on some of the existing challenges with attracting economic growth in the area at its meeting Tuesday, like a lack of developers and the various food deserts stemming from a lack of grocery stores.
“We want to come up with a strategic plan and a course of action to see the renaissance of north Baton Rouge,” Burgess says.