Community leaders representing 20 organizations met Feb. 19 to share concerns to make North Baton Rouge special again.
With nearly 78,000 residents, the three-mile radius around Plank Road could be a city within a city, but it is going through decay, said organizers of the North Baton Rouge Community Reinvestment Alliance.
The Alliance, formed in July, met with Metro councilwoman Ronnie Edwards and invited the leaders to Star Hill Baptist Church.
“There is tremendous interest in how to make the community better,” said attorney Preston Castille, one of the presenters. “But we have to develop a self sustaining plan to protect the interest of North Baton Rouge.” Castille grew up in North Baton Rouge and shared the affinity for the area as many of the invited guest.
Edwards’ invitation to participants explained that the Alliance is a “catalyst for linking entities to transform North Baton Rouge,” and the message of the meeting was clear: “We have to coordinate our strengths to work around the things that are important for our community,” as Star Hill pastor Raymond Jetson said.
The Alliance plans to serve as a think tank and action committee to influence development in North Baton Rouge. Jetson asked, “How can we put our imprint on what North Baton Rouge looks like?”
“We are all looking for something. So how can we work together so that the collective something is better than my something by itself,” he said. “Often times, people with the same challenges, end up being separated. We’d like to see a coordination of strength across the footprint.”
As the group listened, Castille reminded them of the political climate some said they were not familiar with: “There’s planning going on. Something is going to happen (in North Baton Rouge)…We don’t want it to just happen to us. This is our opportunity to be apart of the process that will happen with or without us.”
The Alliance plans to develop short-term and long-term strategies to redevelop North Baton Rouge beginning with the Redevelopment Authority.
Internally, the group will take the advice of Gerri Hobdy with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation to assess the readiness of the organizations in the room and identify assets.
They will also create a repository of what each other are doing, as suggested by Eric Lewis of Sable International.
Jetson said a goal of the meeting was to “put spirit to our plan it has to come from within…Collectively there’s more we can remedy than what we can come up with individually,” he said.
What started out as a small group discussion, has now involve the participation of people from community development corporations, two business groups, Capital Area Transit System, Louisiana Housing Finance Agency, Southern University Ag Center, and Whitney Bank.
They agreed to join with the Alliance and become actively involved in the Comprehensive Plan and the East Baton Rouge Parish Redevelopment Authority. Jetson said they want to, “prevent a process that is external to the life, breath, economy and quality of life already in North Baton Rouge.”
He told the group, in order to revive the area and “create a stable economic system,” the alliance would have to be engaged from start through implementation. Most of the people agreed and signed up to attend the next series of small group, planning meetings.
“We have a rich mixture of talent and capability in the room; (it is) invigorating and inspiring,” Jetson said.
State Representative Michael Jackson and councilwomen C. Denise Marcelle, Donna Collins-Lewis, Edwards, and Tara Wicker attended the discussion.