Kenner seeks designation

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Kenner's Rivertown museums on Williams Boulevard are vacant now. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Kenner's Rivertown museums on Williams Boulevard are vacant now.

City hopes to make historic area viable

The city’s quest to find ways to make its historic Rivertown a financially viable part of the city has taken a new turn with the city’s plan to apply for a designation as a cultural and arts district by the state of Louisiana.

The Kenner City Council authorized the city’s planning department to apply for the designation Thursday. Planning Director Jay Hebert said the designation would be a perfect complement to the city’s push to garner a “Main Street USA” designation for Rivertown, and the area’s status as a historic district.

“It would all work together,” Hebert said.

If the state approves Kenner’s request, it could create new tax benefits for Rivertown businesses and help revitalize the consistently troubled area. Hebert said he’s been in contact with state officials for some time and feels confident about Kenner’s chances of qualifying for the designation.

“I feel good,” Hebert said. Typically, it takes a few months for the state to make its decision. The application is due by March 1.

Under the program, income and corporate franchise tax credits can be awarded for work done to rehab owner-occupied or revenue-generating historic sites in the district. That creates an incentive for property owners and business owners to invest in improving properties that are older than 50 years old, according to the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development.

In addition, the sale of unique, original artwork in the district is exempt from sales tax, according to the guidelines passed in 2007. The program requires local governments to track the impact of the cultural district and make reports to the state twice a year. Councilman Greg Carroll praised the program as yet another way to help Rivertown improve its standing.

“This is just one more thing that the historic area of Rivertown is not only offering to the residents of Kenner but to the surrounding areas,” Carroll said.

In order to receive state approval, an area must show that the designation as a cultural district will revitalize the area, stimulate the economy, provide a sense of community, and enhance property among other items. The state already has 63 cultural districts in 25 different parishes

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a former lieutenant governor, pushed for the cultural districts as a way for the state to use its culture to create economic development. When he unveiled a massive cultural district in New Orleans, he argued that culture is big business in the state, and officials need to take advantage.

Typically cultural districts include art galleries and other cultural significant businesses. New Orleans has more than 20 designated districts, while Jefferson Parish currently has cultural districts in Gretna and Grand Isle.

Kenner officials have been searching for way to create economic development in Rivertown for years. Several years ago the city closed several museums in the area to reduce the subsidies from the city’s general fund. The city has contracted with private companies to run theaters in the area, and the state has announced plans to move an Office of Motor Vehicles satellite office to the area.

Councilman Joe Stagni said that he thinks the designation as a cultural and arts district could provide a big boost to Rivertown.

“This may be one of the steps towards things really taking off in the Rivertown,” Stagni said.

Carroll noted that ultimately the cultural district and Rivertown in general will only go as far as the city residents take it, and he encouraged them to spend their money and time in Rivertown.