Future of Fat City now in Jefferson Parish Council’s hands

An advisory board tasked with mapping out the continued redevelopment of Jefferson Parish’s Fat City neighborhood submitted its final recommendations this week, and the board sees both short-term and long-term fixes needed for the area’s growth.

The Jefferson Parish Council accepted the Fat City Advisory Board’s final report with repeated congratulations for the hard work of volunteers who’ve met for two years to discuss the area’s transformation. With the recommendations in hand, the council must plot the next steps, which could include additional ordinances governing Fat City and the creation of a business development district to further guide the area’s growth.

Pat LeBlanc, the advisory board’s chairwoman, said she is enthusiastic about what can happen in Fat City if the parish makes good choices moving forward.

“We have good bones in Fat City,” LeBlanc said. “What we have before us is a work in progress.”

The advisory board’s recommendations run the gamut from advice on future capital improvements for the area to parking management and aesthetics. Some of those changes were slated for later this year, while others were seen as long-term projects.

For example, the board has recommended the council eliminate an exemption Fat City has enjoyed from rules that require Dumpsters to be within enclosures.

Board members suggested including a budget for capital improvements in Fat City in the parish’s annual budgeting process and starting discussions on a parking garage in the area.

The board also made recommendations regarding crime prevention and the creation of a neighborhood association for Fat City.

However, the recommendation stressed most was the creation of a businesses development district, and an accompanying board, to guide and direct Fat City’s efforts moving forward.

Parish officials would need to petition the state for that special district, which would be located within a special tax increment financing district that already encompasses Fat City.

LeBlanc said that doing so would mean that Fat City’s redevelopment wasn’t approached in fits and starts and instead would be part of a continuous process.

Jefferson Parish has long discussed changes to Fat City, which began as a nighttime entertainment destination but eventually became dilapidated and unseemly. Jefferson Parish Councilwoman Cynthia Lee Sheng pushed through new laws that attempted to reshape the neighborhood’s focus and has sponsored events, such as food truck rallies, to boost its profile.

The report notes that a development district could collect special fees, taxes or assessments that would be used to help finance improvements to Fat City.

In addition, the district’s board could manage and direct the area’s rebranding, which has been a topic of conversation with experts who have worked on similar rebranding efforts in New York’s Times Square.

“We need continuity,” LeBlanc told the council. “That is the ultimate answer here. Continuity is what we will get with a (business development district) … We will succeed in Fat City; this parish will succeed.’’

Sheng said she supports the idea of the development district but isn’t sure when the state will honor the parish’s request for its creation. She also plans to act on the recommendation regarding Dumpsters but doesn’t know when that change in parish laws would occur.

Council Chairman Chris Roberts commended board members for working through the thorny issues that accompany any redevelopment discussion. While there were heated arguments and disagreements, the final project is a good launching point for the parish’s efforts, he said. Parish officials have to take action because Fat City is too important to the east bank’s future.

“Any time you try to implement change, it’s something that is not easy,” Roberts noted. “The answer is not just doing nothing, and that’s what you guys did not allow to occur.”