Young: ‘Best days ahead’

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Jefferson Parish President John Young works the room prior to delivering the state of the parish address Wednesday in Kenner. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Jefferson Parish President John Young works the room prior to delivering the state of the parish address Wednesday in Kenner.

Jefferson chamber hears state of the parish

Jefferson Parish President John Young told a roomful of politicians and business people on Wednesday that the parish’s future growth and success will depend on the continued collaboration between government, civic and business leaders to create a community that is attractive to young professionals flocking to the metropolitan area.

Recreating Jefferson Parish as a vibrant, forward-thinking community was the focus of “state-of-the-parish” addresses delivered by Young and Parish Council Chairman Elton Lagasse to the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce in Kenner.

Young acknowledged that the parish has faced some difficult circumstances in recent years but claimed those challenges have only prepared the parish to handle what he believes is imminent success.

“We have many challenges but more opportunities,” Young said. “I think our best days are ahead of us, not behind us.”

Young cited two pillars for that belief. First, he believes the parish’s new push to add modern amenities such as dog parks, bike trails and popular national retail chains will draw in young professionals who have come to the area in droves since Hurricane Katrina. More importantly, Young believes that the ongoing $1.2 billion widening of the Huey P. Long bridge will usher in a new financial boom that could shape the parish’s next half-century as much as flight from urban centers shaped its first.

“It will be to Jefferson Parish what the Superdome was to Poydras Street,” said Young about the bridge widening, which officials expect to create residential and commercial development from Westwego to Waggaman. “We rode the wave of suburban explosion, and now people are coming back into the city.”

To take advantage of this new movement, Jefferson Parish is going to have to prove that it is a progressive and high-quality community, the two said. Lagasse noted that the parish has shown an increased focus on its recreation facilities and its code enforcement because both of those departments are vital to establishing quality of life. He even promised that the embattled Jefferson Performing Arts Center will eventually be a positive for the parish.

“I know code is a pain to some people, but it works,” said Lagasse, who described the new Parc de Families park on Leo Kerner Parkway as a model for the state. “If you keep your kids occupied, they stay out of trouble.”

Young touted the attraction of Smoothie King headquarters to Metairie and the opening of national food chains such as Panera Bread and Chipotle as positive signs.

He also said a West Bank chemical company is considering an $800 million expansion of its operations.

Young pointed to the redevelopment of Fat City into an arts district as a possible draw for young people. He also praised the parish’s new Inspector General’s Office, which is slated to begin work early next year, as crucial to restoring resident and business confidence in parish operations.

“I think the creation of the Office of the Inspector General is not just important in the area of good government, but it’s important in the area of economic development,” Young said. “It will be a catalyst.”

But Young’s positive comments were tempered by some persistent problems he acknowledged, including constant flooding in some portions of the parish and sluggish sales tax revenues. While Jefferson Parish has seen the completion of massive flood protection projects, communities such as Grand Isle, Lafitte, Barataria and Crown Point remain in danger. If those areas aren’t protected, the entire parish is in peril, Young said.

“If we don’t plant our flag in Lafitte, Crown Point, Barataria it won’t be long, in our lifetimes, before water is lapping up on the doorsteps of the metropolitan area,” he said.

Young expressed hope that eventually the national economy will improve and with it the parish’s sales tax figures. He noted that while attracting new businesses is good, the parish must attract new residents to support them.

“Are you expanding the pie or just cutting it into smaller pieces?” Young asked.