With the rules surrounding qualified opportunity zones finally settled, local organizations wanting to redevelop the property that once housed the Earl K. Long Hospital must clear another major hurdle: Acquiring the 15 acres along Airline Highway.
The topic arose Thursday during a meeting among local officials, architects and eight potential “anchor” institutions interested in partnering with the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority on the redevelopment project, which has been in the works since the hospital was demolished in 2013.
Specifically, the holdup involves transferring ownership of the property from the LSU Health Care Services Division—which is legislatively authorized to have a directed cash sale of the land, most recently appraised at $1.6 million—to the East Baton Rouge Parish Housing Authority and its partners—which are pushing for alternate financing options, such as a ground lease or cooperative endeavor agreement with LSU.
Jerry Jones, director of facility planning and management for the LSU Health Care Services Division, says his division has only been given the statutory authority to sell the land in cash and can’t legally accept other financing mechanisms.
“We had tight parameters around what we could do with the land, so it couldn’t just be developed into anything,” says state Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, who co-authored the legislation with then-state Rep. Sharon Weston Broome. “It has left the state with some oversight that’s more of a barrier than a help at this point.”
To move the project forward, Barrow says she will likely author legislation calling for some technical changes that will make it easier for the EBRPHA and others to secure the site.
In the meantime, housing authority director J. Wesley Daniels says next steps include updating the master plan for the property, after which they’ll come up with a development cost estimate. Then, once committed to the initiative, anchor partners will need to draft and execute memorandums of understanding with EBRPHA.
At this point, no funds have been committed by any of the institutions that attended yesterday’s meeting, which Daniels declines to name. But he remains confident they will bring forth some funding options to the next meeting, saying there was “great energy” toward the project, envisioned as a social and economic catalyst for north Baton Rouge.
The group will meet again in late October to hammer down timelines and funding sources.