Retail might follow rooftops, but it also follows tax incentives for developers. Livingston Parish has both.
The parish is home to Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World and Juban Crossing, two significant Denham Springs developments that leverage tax increment financing, or TIFs. The mechanism entices developers with significant tax breaks to cover infrastructure and development costs, allowing the local government to impose an additional sales tax in a designated district without voter approval.
“Without TIF, we wouldn’t have been able to do Juban Crossing,” says developer Steve Keller, whose 550,000-square-foot, open-air shopping center generated $9.6 million in sales tax revenue for the parish last April. “It’s worked out great for us.”
It does appear the TIF strategy is working, with some retailers popping up around Juban Crossing and many coming to the area around Bass Pro, which is expected to pay off its 30-year bonds in less than half the time amortized.
But the 2016 flood put a temporary damper on retail growth. Juban Crossing still has some empty storefronts, like the Kohl’s that left after the flood, though activity has picked up recently as outparcels attract more tenants. Keller says the development is about 50% complete, with plans underway to add another 100,000 square feet of retail before building 500 homes and 450 apartment units.
Both developments are often heralded as examples of what’s possible for the parish’s retail footprint, which is moving into the bedroom community at a much slower clip than its population is growing.
Without the luxury of river access—which neighboring Ascension Parish uses to entice industry—Livingston is chasing retail in an effort to generate the revenue it needs to accommodate a booming population and spur additional growth.
One might argue retail doesn’t equate to economic development because, rather than generate new dollars, it reshuffles existing consumer spending.
But David Bennett, executive director of the Livingston Economic Development Council, says a healthy retail environment can help the parish attract different kinds of businesses and industry, from advanced manufacturing and distribution facilities to doctor’s offices, law practices and engineering firms.
For retail to work, says Bennett, a community must have the population and the infrastructure, the latter of which can prove a challenge, considering many dry properties throughout the parish are identified as wetlands and are unavailable to develop.
To address other infrastructure issues, the Livingston Parish Chamber of Commerce is focusing on quality of place initiatives, says past Board Chair John Blount, including hosting community cleanup days and other aesthetic efforts to tackle blight. Three years ago, the chamber also launched the Livingston Young Professionals organization as a way to cultivate a future business tax base.
LYP President Kevin Foster says some retailers that would otherwise open in a parish outskirt won’t do so because of a lack of zoning in those areas. However, he says there’s plenty more room for a variety of restaurants throughout the parish, as well as “name-brand stores with discount prices,” like Nordstrom Rack.
To land retailers, some Livingston municipalities are soliciting outside help.
Mike Cotton, finance director for the City of Walker, hired Retail Strategies, a national firm that partners with cities across the country to grow retail opportunities. Fourteen months into the three-year, $120,000 contract, the company is trying to bring Walker another grocery store and a sit-down, family-style restaurant à la Chili’s or Applebee’s.
The need for such is only getting larger, he says, referencing a study the company performed last year showing a wide gap between Walker’s population and retail footprint, indicating the city is missing out on a potentially significant revenue stream.
“We’re behind—these dollars aren’t being spent in Walker, but somewhere else. You have so many people leaving to go work in Baton Rouge every day,” Cotton says. “In the meantime, we’re waiting in longer lines at the same restaurants.”
Others, meanwhile, are looking from within to gauge opportunities. The town of Livingston, for example, was minimally impacted by the 2016 flood, drawing the interest of “major corporations and chains” who have since reached out to Covington and Associates real estate agent Kayla Johnson about developing along Range Road.
Johnson is optimistic about the residential market parishwide, which she says has been slower since the flood but expects to pick up soon, especially in the eastern part of the parish, where the population is moving. These newcomers are mostly young families relocating from Baton Rouge, she says, reeled in by a strong school system and low crime rates.
The rest of the parish is poised for more restaurants and shops, too, she says.
“People are seeing they can stay home and shop local, and that it’s a lot safer,” Johnson says. “And the centers are seeing the sales happening.”