RDA will have bigger role in redevelopment in Baton Rouge

The East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority—best known for the controversy surrounding former CEO Walter Monsour, and projects like the planned Electric Depot development and designs for a Baton Rouge-to-New-Orleans commuter rail—will soon have a larger role in city-parish efforts to revitalize neglected and distressed neighborhoods.

As part of Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s shakeup at city hall, the RDA will “realign” with two other agencies. Also, an additional $4 million in federal dollars will be routed to the RDA, which in recent years has had an operating budget of just under $1 million, as the administration’s Office of Community Development will be pared back and turned into a directing arm.

With the cash infusion, the RDA is set to become a more robust player in East Baton Rouge redevelopment efforts. Interim director Gwen Hamilton plans to tap around $550,000 of the federal money to staff up, and is asking for upwards of $800,000 from the city-parish general fund for its ongoing work.

“We have waited a long time for this. I take encouragement from the fact that we are now getting an allocation of funds,” says RDA board chairman John Noland. “I’ve been chomping at the bit to get going on this.”

Rowdy Gaudet, assistant chief administrative officer for Broome who has spearheaded the realignment, says the mayor has committed to half a million dollars in local funds for the RDA, which would roughly double the city-parish’s yearly contribution in recent years. Gaudet also hopes the RDA will be able to leverage the new funds for things like land banking and fighting blight.

The $4 million the RDA will get is dedicated to specific projects like single family housing rehabilitation, public services like the Walls Project and other housing development programs.

“These are redevelopment activities,” Gaudet says. “That’s why these programs made sense with the RDA mission.”

The East Baton Rouge Housing Authority will also administer more federal programs under the reorganization, approved last week by the Metro Council. The genesis of the “realignment” was a recommendation from Broome’s transition team to merge the OCD, RDA and Housing Authority into one agency, citing overlap in their work. Instead, Broome moved forward with a less dramatic plan that cut more than a dozen staffers from the OCD and routed much of its funding to the other two agencies.

The Metro Council has transferred 134 adjudicated properties to the RDA since its inception in 2009, according to Hamilton. Those properties either went to developers, nonprofits, the RDA land bank or another program designed to bring abandoned properties back into productive use, and the RDA has overseen around $200 million in development.

In addition to Electric Depot, the RDA is also overseeing the redevelopment of Ardendale, a mixed-use and mixed-income development on nearly 200 acres of land near Baton Rouge Community College.

—Sam Karlin

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