Jeff Councilman wants to spruce up Manhattan Boulevard

Jefferson Parish Councilman Mark Spears is looking to spruce up Manhattan Boulevard, and he’s made some changes to the area’s economic development district to make it happen.

Last month, Spears received approval from the council to dissolve the Manhattan Corridor Economic Development District, a tax increment financing district the parish created in 2008. However, Spears says he doesn’t want to get rid of the district, he just wants to recreate it in a way that will allow the parish to finally borrow money to make improvements to Manhattan Boulevard.

Spears plans to offer legislation recreating the district later in May. “We had to start anew,” Spears said.

Parish officials created the Manhattan Corridor Economic Development District as part of a general push to use tax increment financing to spur the redevelopment of certain neighborhoods. Similar districts have been created in Metairie near Fat City, in Avondale near the Churchill Technology and Business Park and in Terrytown near Oakwood mall. The districts allow the parish to set a baseline for sales tax collection prior to redevelopment and then collect all revenue that exceeds that baseline for work in the district. The additional revenue can be used for infrastructure and beautification projects that are supposed to encourage private-sector investment.

However, the Manhattan district was doomed by the fact that it was created shortly after Hurricane Katrina, when the parish’s sales tax revenues were still artificially inflated by revenues related to hurricane recovery, Spears said. Jefferson Parish saw a massive spike in its sales tax revenues after Katrina because it was one of the few areas where people could purchase goods, according to the parish’s budget reports. However, as the parish noted in its request to have its FEMA community disaster loan forgiven, that spike was only temporary, and revenues have never reached those levels again.

Spears said that because the TIF baseline was tied to inflated numbers, the parish has never been able to capture sales tax revenue to do projects like the lighting and beautification projects along Terry Parkway in Terrytown. In fact, Jefferson Parish records show that the Manhattan district collected zero revenues in five years of operation.

That goose egg came despite the fact that Manhattan Boulevard is one of Jefferson Parish’s economic hubs and has shown steady economic growth in recent years, Spears said. It was obvious the parish needed to dissolve the economic development district and begin all over in order to get a better starting point for its revenue comparison, he said.

“We have to have a new baseline,” he said. “We had no other choice.”

Once the new district is created, Spears plans to meet with the parish administration to discuss the possibility of issuing sales tax bonds to pay for improvements along Manhattan Boulevard. He said that area’s sales tax revenues seem to be steadily climbing and getting state bond commission approval shouldn’t be a problem.

He envisions new lighting, landscaping and other projects along the road.

The parish is still hoping the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development will move forward with new on-ramps for the area, even if the toll renewal fails Saturday. Spears said that if the parish waited until the sales tax revenues got back to the 2008 levels on their own, it might have never gotten any projects done.

“We could have been waiting for a long time,” Spears said. “This will give me the resources to that work.”

The Manhattan Corridor Economic Development District is bounded by Fourth Street, Heebee Canal, Whitney Canal, Verret Canal, Harvey Boulevard, Murphy Canal and Gardere Canal.