Big plans: A new partnership holds potential for the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance and the area it serves

(Photo by Brian Baiamonte)

On an invitation last month to its 25th anniversary celebration, the Mid City Redevelopment Alliance promised to make a “huge announcement” that would be a “game changer.”

Those who were expecting something along the lines of another IBM services center or a new emergency room might have been disappointed.

As it turned out, the agency was announcing its new partnership with NeighborWorks America, a national agency that seeks to develop affordable housing by distributing federal funds to some 240 community development organizations within its network, of which the MCRA is now a member.

Hyperbole aside, the announcement is a big deal for the MCRA, and the potential implications for the Mid City area it serves are significant. For one thing, the partnership gives the agency credibility and technical assistance, which, as a nonprofit, it desperately needs. MCRA Executive Director Samuel Sanders likens it to a Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

More significantly, being a member of the network will give the alliance access to funds, which it can leverage and use to attract developers and financing for redevelopment projects.

Already, the MCRA has received $150,000 from NeighborWorks America. It is applying for $80,000 more this month and will ask for an additional $150,000 in the fall.

“They are one of the leaders in nonprofit community revitalization work,” Sanders says. “In over the 30 years of performing around the country they have captured the best practices and then make those available to their partners.”

Sanders has ambitious goals for the agency. At the anniversary celebration, he unveiled a five-year plan that includes developing 500 new units of housing in the Mid City area roughly bounded by Choctaw Drive, Interstate 110, College Drive/I-10 and Foster Drive. That’s five times as many homes as the MCRA has developed in its quarter-century existence. Though most of those units would be affordable housing, Sanders also wants to develop market-rate and single-family homes in the area.

“There is a buzz about Mid City, so we feel the market is ripe for this now,” Sanders says.

There is not just demand but a very real need. Recent statistics from the parish Office of Community Development suggest some 27,000 housing units in Baton Rouge are substandard.

“So 500 is really just scratching the surface,” he says.

Sanders’ goals also call for redeveloping two signature projects in buildings the MCRA already owns—the old Laurel Street Fire Station and the former Robinson Bros. Lincoln Mercury dealership.

Above all, Sanders hopes to grow the size of his agency and its budget by partnering with developers and then sharing in their development fees. Eventually, Sanders hopes to move the MCRA into property management, which would create a sustainable revenue source for the agency—money it could then use to do more redevelopment in Mid City.

It’s ambitious and will likely take longer than five years to accomplish. But even if only half of Sanders’ goals are realized, the partnership will be a win for the agency and the community. It might even be a game changer.

—Stephanie Riegel

There are no comments. Click to add your thoughts!