Council approves annexing Costco, Celtic and SAIF

Costco, Celtic Studios, SAIF Credit Union join BR; fate of mall uncertain

Baton Rouge got a little bit bigger Wednesday — but just a little bit.

The Metro Council approved a measure that expanded the boundaries of the city to fully include Costco Wholesale, Celtic Studios and SAIF Credit Union, three businesses that straddled the line between Baton Rouge and the proposed city of St. George.

The three businesses pose little financial gain for Baton Rouge. But it’s likely that city-parish officials intend to use additional annexations of bigger retail revenue generators as a means to protect the parish from the financial impact of St. George.

If St. George successfully incorporates, it could take with it all the sales tax revenue generated within its boundaries. Retail giants such as the Mall of Louisiana and Perkins Rowe are within the boundaries of the proposed St. George area.

Councilman Ryan Heck said last week that Mayor-President Kip Holden’s Office is close to securing a petition from the Mall of Louisiana to be annexed into the city.

The Mall of Louisiana manager and Mayor’s Office officials have refused to confirm if an annexation petition is in the works.

The quick annexation of the three businesses Wednesday does not necessarily mean future annexations will go as smoothly, or that they would be approved at all.

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, whose district is fully encompassed by the proposed St. George, said he would not support the annexation of the Mall of Louisiana into Baton Rouge because it would have a detrimental effect on the St. George Fire Protection District.

If the mall were annexed into the city, it would be covered by the Baton Rouge Fire Department, which is funded by the city-parish budget.

The St. George Fire Department is funded from a property tax on the sprawling shopping mall campus.

“The amount of revenue lost by St. George Fire District would have an adverse effect on the numerous subdivisions that depend on that revenue,” Loupe said.

He said the impact on the St. George Fire District budget would far exceed the hit that the Mall of Louisiana could have on the city-parish budget.

However, Councilman John Delgado said the council needs to hold future annexations to the same standard as the three businesses annexed into the city on Wednesday.

“We believe in a property owner’s right to self-determination and in this case it was Celtic Studios,” he said. “But if the Mall of Louisiana comes to us and says, ‘We want to be part of the city of Baton Rouge,’ then who are we to tell them no?”

Delgado said he would support allowing the mall to remain in the St. George Fire District, while being a part of Baton Rouge, if that was an issue for his colleagues.

Celtic Studios Executive Director Patrick Mulhearn thanked the council for allowing the business into the city.

“We are proud to be in the city of Baton Rouge,” he said.

St. George incorporation leaders are trying to collect 18,000 signatures on a petition to put the city proposal to a vote. The organizers have declined to disclose their signature counts; however, they said in January that they had about 10,000.

Critics of the proposed city say St. George threatens to hurt the city-parish economy by creating a $53 million budget deficit from the diverted sales taxes. St. George organizers say the deficit would be closer to $14 million.