N. Lafayette redevelopment agency to come to life

It’s been six years since state legislation created an agency to address blight and redevelopment in north Lafayette, and it may finally be coming to life.

The board overseeing the planned North Lafayette Redevelopment Authority could be seated as early as next month, said state Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette.

Still to be determined is precisely what projects the redevelopment authority might take on, but its legal powers would be wide ranging.

The legislation creating the agency gives it the ability to levy taxes, borrow money, buy and sell property, take on the role of developer and hire a staff, among other things.

The overall goal is to spur redevelopment and tackle such issues as crime, overgrown lots, abandoned homes and broken sidewalks, Pierre said.

He said the strategy will be worked out over the coming months and years.

“Hopefully, we can begin to address the concerns of the blight,” Pierre said. “There is indeed something that needs to be done.”

The North Lafayette Redevelopment Authority was created in 2008 through legislation sponsored by former state Sen. Don Cravins Jr., who a year later stepped down to take a job in Washington, D.C.

No appointments were ever made, and despite discussions in recent years of activating the redevelopment authority, nothing had gained traction.

Pierre first talked of giving life to the redevelopment authority last year, and he passed a bill in the recent legislative session that tweaked details on how the redevelopment authority board is appointed, giving most of the say-so to state legislators and City-Parish Council members who represent portions of north Lafayette.

Two appointments are given to District 24 state Sen. Elbert Guillory, R-Opelousas.

One appointment each goes to Pierre in House District 44; District 96 state Rep. Terry Landry Sr., D-New Iberia; City-Parish President Joey Durel; City-Parish District 3 Councilman Brandon Shelvin; and City-Parish District 4 Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux.

The boundaries of the redevelopment authority are drawn from Pierre’s House District 44 and City-Parish Council Districts 3 and 4 — most of northeastern Lafayette Parish with the exception of the downtown area, which the legislation excluded.

Boudreaux said he envisions an authority with a paid staff focused on economic development, the restoration of historic properties and the redevelopment of blighted areas.

He said one possibility is the restoration of the historic Holy Rosary Institute on Carmel Drive, which opened in 1913 and served a black student population of local children and boarding students from across the country through the decades of segregation.

Holy Rosary closed in 1993, and the three-story brick schoolhouse has been crumbling in on itself, prompting the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation to list the school as one of the most endangered historic sites in the state.

The redevelopment authority will need money for staff and any major initiatives, but Boudreaux said no immediate funding sources have been identified, though state money and grants are being pursued.

The redevelopment authority has the ability to ask voters for a tax, but Pierre said that is not on the table.

“Taxes, I would say, would be the last resort,” he said.

Even with all the details to be hashed out, Boudreaux said he is confident the first step will soon be taken to finally seat the redevelopment authority board.

“I can assure you that will be done,” he said.

Similar redevelopment authorities are already in place in other areas of the state, including New Orleans, Lake Charles and Baton Rouge.

The general idea, though executed differently from city to city, is a public agency that works with the private sector and other public entities to spur redevelopment in areas that might otherwise be passed over.

“All of the places that we work in need incentives,” said East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority President and CEO Walter Monsour. “The whole work of the redevelopment authority is to go in and do that so that area can begin to grow organically.”

If done right, he said, private money will start to follow the public money.

The work of redevelopment authorities can be as basic as dealing with a few abandoned homes to massive developments, such as the 200-acre Ardendale project the redevelopment authority in Baton Rouge is overseeing — a mixture of housing and retail space combined with facilities for Baton Rouge Community College’s Center for Excellence in Auto Technology and the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s Career Academy.

Monsour said growing a redevelopment authority to the point where it can take on such a major project can take several years and the work requires a staff dedicated to figuring out how to redevelop areas that, for various reasons, have been passed over by the private market.

“There has to be a mission,” he said.