I’ve spent all but six of my thirty two years living in Baton Rouge. I can remember when there was no Perkins Rowe, or Towne Center. I remember when there were two open grocery stores within a mile and a half of my parents home off Mickens Road in north Baton Rouge. When I was 6 and my parents moved in the subdivision they live in, they purchased the house of the second to last white person to live in their neighborhood. One white family still owns a home in the subdivision and I don’t expect they will move. Here rest the problem in Baton Rouge and a host of other cities. Where white people move, so does investment. We can pretend it’s crime, or this or that. The truth is, it is just inequity and a lack of trying.
A grocery store closed on Bluebonnet, and within a few weeks Rouse’s had a sign that they were opening a new store in the location. A grocery store closed on Hooper Road and years later it’s still closed. My generation inherited the mess that is our city. There has long been a way of doing business in Baton Rouge that has began to be challenged in the past two years in a mainstream way. Our leaders pretend they don’t know what to do, black and white. Yet it isn’t as hard as some would think. It just takes real leadership that is unapologetic about balancing the scales. Here is my 3 step plan to get a grocery store in north Baton Rouge.
- Purchase Cortana Mall:
Currently Cortana Mall is for sale for $4 million. This is the cheapest I believe the building will ever list for sale. The city should purchase the facility, much like it purchased the old Woman’s Hospital building on Airline Hwy. near Florida Blvd. The city can use this building as an asset to leverage with a grocery chain. If we are to create new jobs and attract a grocer, it would help to give them a facility to open as a distribution center. We could require that a certain number of jobs are created, that so many people from certain zip codes are hired — this is an incentive. If we give the company the building, they save millions of dollars of upfront cost. The win for the tax payer is, JOB CREATION in the northern part of the city and it prevents the facility from sitting empty for several more years.
2. Build A Tax Incentive Package:
The mayor’s office should use the tools at it’s disposal in tax incentives. The sale the mayor has to make is, we need to build stores in north Baton Rouge. The city should be prepared to offer a TIF (Tax Incremental Financing) option for every store built north of Florida Blvd. excluding Baker, Zachary, and Central which each of these cities have their own council to attract businesses to their areas. The TIF will allow the retailer to build a store and not pay sales taxes for a period of 5 to 10 years as they pay off the debt of building a new store. The mayor’s office should also help the vendor take advantage of the property tax abatement that the north Baton Rouge Opportunity Zone created. In short, a company purchases a plot of land for say five hundred thousand dollars. The company builds a four million dollar facility let’s say in Howell Place. With the property tax abatement the company is allowed to pay property taxes at the assed value of five hundred thousand for 5 to 10 years. It freezes the tax rate which allows the company to put that money back into the business. When you pair the two tax incentives together you’re giving millions in tax incentives to the company to invest in north Baton Rouge. Tax incentives is how we got every hotel in downtown Baton Rouge. The businesses didn’t just pour into downtown Baton Rouge. The government went to work to attract those businesses with collaboration from the mayor’s office wanting to see a change in downtown.
3. Attract An Out Of State Grocer
The reason you go after an out of state business is, they aren’t tainted by the bias of local media that all of north Baton Rouge is crime infested. It simply is not true, and outsiders will see north Baton Rouge as a place of opportunity where locals have decided to write it off. This was our approach with the North Baton Rouge Blue Ribbon Commission to attracting a vendor for an emergency room in north Baton Rouge. We reached out to a Dallas based company about the opportunity because Our Lady of the Lake, Oschner, and Baton Rouge General all said north Baton Rouge didn’t need emergency care. Our vendor prepared a proposal, and we drove the conversation. Ultimately Gov. Edwards, due to a lack of unity in the Baton Rouge legislative delegation and his personal connection to the Lake’s lobbyist gave OLOL $10 million to build the ER. Never the less, there is no ER in north Baton Rouge without the energy of outside competition looking to seize an opportunity to expand their footprint. The companies in Baton Rouge do not see the need to enhance the quality of life for the residents of north Baton Rouge. Therefor we should stop asking those who don’t value our dollars to expand their businesses in our communities. A store like HEB in Houston could come to Baton Rouge and expand it’s business substantially. The company isn’t required to only build in north Baton Rouge, but the incentives should only be attached to the stores where there is lack in the community.
There has been a push to move everything south. In that push, people who live in south Baton Rouge are burdened by traffic. The residents of north Baton Rouge are forced to drive half way across town for a decent grocery store, which makes the average resident in north Baton Rouge spend more money for basic necessities. When you add the cost of fuel, the time lost in the car, and the higher prices due to a lack of real competition the person losing is the everyday citizen.
This isn’t rocket science, and it isn’t difficult to accomplish. It simply requires leadership to get up and make some bold moves. This can be done to attract more than just a grocery store chain to Baton Rouge. We have got to get serious about job growth and equity in how we use our tax resources. That is how we advance this parish. Is this the only way to do it? No, but it is something that we can try immediately and see what results we come up with. This is a lot better than continuing to let Family Dollar and Dollar General Stores open up in our communities where no fresh fruit or veggies are sold to the population that need access to quality food the most.