The Metro Council will consider green lighting an additional $380,000 on Wednesday to pay for a variety of downtown projects, including signs directing visitors to prominent attractions, stage lighting and roadside improvements.
Although the projects would be funded using money that is dedicated, by state law, for riverfront projects, the Metro Council nearly rejected the downtown allocation last month.
The item was deferred to Wednesday’s meeting in a last-ditch attempt to save the projects.
Downtown continues to be a sore spot for several council members who have said they are uncomfortable with the amount of attention and financing spent in the downtown area compared with other parts of the parish.
Many projects are funded by the state sales tax rebate from hotels in the parish that is designated for riverfront development improvements.
Councilwoman Tara Wicker, whose district includes downtown, said she’s frustrated by colleagues who continue to vote against downtown spending when the funding is from a dedicated source.
She said she believes some council members are stalling the projects because of an ongoing feud with Mayor-President Kip Holden.
“There seems to be this continual divide between the Mayor’s Office and the council members, where they think the mayor is for those projects, so then they don’t get funded,” Wicker said. “Downtown is something that’s part of the mayor’s legacy, and there are some people who don’t want to see that happen.”
The downtown funds were included in Holden’s $11.1 million budget supplement introduced last month; it was one of the few items not approved by the council at the June 27 meeting.
Of the funds, $30,000 would pay for markers and signs directing downtown visitors to such attractions as the River Center, Shaw Center, the North Boulevard Town Square and other areas and buildings.
Signs are useful for people visiting for conventions, such as the International Planetarium Society which has drawn hundreds downtown this week, directing them to cultural and civic attractions, according to Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District.
Another $50,000 is set aside for the Galvez Plaza stage canopy lights. The Metro Council battled last year over whether to approve $900,000 of dedicated funds to build the sculptural, stainless steel Galvez Plaza stage canopy.
The canopy funds ultimately were approved and construction of the structure is expected to be finished this fall.
The lighting, according to documents provided to the Metro Council by Rhorer’s office, will “allow the sculpture to be recognized as a special symbol for Baton Rouge.”
The largest allocation of the money available for downtown improvements is $200,000 to fix sidewalks, improve roadside lighting and plant trees along the walkway on Lafayette Street.
The allocation also would dedicate $100,000 to improving streetscapes with better signage, landscaping and other improvement— along Interstate 110, to provide a better first impression into downtown, Rhorer said.
Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison, who voted against the downtown spending at the June meeting, said he understands the funds are dedicated to downtown spending, but is concerned officials are viewing downtown too narrowly.
He said the dedicated funds could be spent for other Riverfront projects such as the River Center or saved to eventually build another downtown parking garage.
“I hope to look beyond just the low-hanging fruit and look to the next five years and 10 years,” Addison said. “If Baton Rouge is going to really be a major growth center, we’re going to have to be bigger than the four streets or five projects that we’re always looking at.”
Rhorer said the improvements and beautification are vital because more people are downtown every day now, thanks to $100 million in private-sector development invested in recent years.
“We have three new hotels, plus new residential,” he said, also noting the opening of several new downtown restaurants. “This is new money coming into the city, people staying at our hotels, eating at our restaurants, enjoying our attractions. It’s new money and ultimately the parish wins.”
The council will take up the issue at 4 p.m. on the third floor of City Hall.