It hasn’t taken long for the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District board of directors to get to work after voters approved a 2% occupancy tax on hotel stays within the district on Dec. 10. The 13-member board has already named Rinaldi Jacobs as interim executive director and launched a search for a permanent director with hopes of filling the position early next month. The director will be paid between $55,000 and $100,000 anually.
In the meantime, Jacobs says new projects in north Baton Rouge could be announced in the coming weeks.
The handful of hotels located within the district—roughly bordered by Harding Boulevard to the north, Florida Boulevard to the south, North Sherwood Forest Drive to the east and Scenic Highway on the west—will begin collecting the 2% occupancy tax in April. It’s expected to generate $261,000 annually, but the board won’t begin getting proceeds until June, Jacobs says.
The board will use the funds to leverage private, philanthropic and federal dollars, and market the area to businesses and industries that can bring jobs and spur economic development. It will also aggressively pursue grants and partner with organizations to teach residents how to become community developers and licensed contractors, Jacobs says.
At its first meeting in late December, the board selected ExxonMobil YMCA Executive Director Ron Smith as chairman and former Metro Councilwoman Lori Burgess as secretary. The board also discussed some of the existing challenges with attracting economic growth in the area and began charting a course to move forward.
“We want to come up with a strategic plan and a course of action to see the renaissance of north Baton Rouge,” Burgess says.
ExxonMobil, the largest landowner in the district, is represented on the board by Public and Governmental Affairs Manager Stephanie Cargile. Others on the board include Tony’s Seafood co-owner Bill Pizzolato, Next Generation Pioneers founder Dezmion Barrow and The Rouge Collection Publisher Gary Chambers. Richard Preis—a longtime developer in north Baton Rouge whose 200-acre Howell Place development is home to hotels, apartments and restaurants—is also on the board.
“The growth in our parish is going to be on the north end,” Preis says, noting the district includes Southern University, easy access to the interstate, an airport and ExxonMobil—all of which should be compelling selling points to investors. Preis says he personally plans to announce two large projects in the coming weeks.
Jacobs says meetings have been taking place for months between the development district, Louisiana Economic Development—which handles tax incentives for the state—Southern University and other government agencies to develop a plan for north Baton Rouge.
Despite the early optimism, attracting developers to the long-distressed area won’t be easy. The Metro Council earlier this year approved an economic opportunity zone—overriding Mayor Kip Holden’s veto in the process—to give property tax abatements to developers investing in north Baton Rouge. However, only one developer reportedly took advantage of incentives available in zone in 2016.