Last June, the nascent Baton Rouge North Economic Development District announced a new company, Ready Shield Solutions, had plans to redevelop the old Cotton’s Holsum Bread Bakery on Choctaw Drive, turning it into a housing manufacturing facility.
Eight months later, however, progress has been slow. No visible work on the long-abandoned facility has been done and the developers are continuing to secure financing—which could be complicated by the fact that the bakery site is not in a federally designated Opportunity Zone, as originally thought.
Still, officials with Ready Shield Solutions say a lot is happening behind the scenes and they are continuing to move forward with the project, which would represent a $60 million investment in north Baton Rouge and could create as many as 300 permanent jobs.
In an email response to questions about the status of the project, developer Robert Day says some cleanup of the grounds and yard has begun, as well as the construction of security fencing and installation of lighting.
“Renovation work is ongoing while we are working through the public programs,” says Day, who is recovering from cancer treatments, another factor in the project’s delay. “We are also in the process of setting up and initializing our manufacturing line.”
The public programs he’s referring to are the state tax incentives the company is planning to seek. Last summer, the developers filed preliminary paperwork necessary to qualify for a property tax abatement under the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program or ITEP, as well as a restoration tax abatement and a quality jobs tax incentive.
“As you know, we have submitted an advance notification but have not completed the final application for the ITEP process,” Day says. “We continue to work on the business plan.
He adds that “some financing has been secured but not all.”
One tax break the project does not qualify for is the federal Opportunity Zone program, which grants capital gains tax benefits to developers who invest in projects in federal Opportunity Zones or specially designated low-income census tracts. The bakery site is on the edge of an Opportunity Zone but is literally on the wrong side of the street, N. Ardenwood Drive.
Day says the developers were “disappointed” to learn the site is not in an Opportunity Zone but that “it has had no impact on plans.”
State Rep. Denise Marcelle, whose district includes the bakery site, says she has been in touch with the developers, including Day’s partner, Tevester Scott, and is trying to help them secure whatever they need to get the project moving.
“I’m going to do what I can to make sure we allow this to come into our area,” she says.
Marcelle says there has been some talk of trying to move the boundary of the Opportunity Zone but she does not think that is legislatively possible.
Opportunity Zone boundaries are delineated by the state and certified by the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury. Once they have been set, they cannot be changed for 10 years, according to the rules of the program.
Marcelle says she plans to meet with Scott in the near future to discuss the project, adding, “I told him I’ll do anything I can to help them.”
There is no date yet for when construction on the facility might begin.