New economic district for north Baton Rouge hires two top officials

The Baton Rouge Advocate

The newly formed Baton Rouge North Economic Development District on Thursday officially hired the administrators who will be charged with spurring investment above Florida Boulevard.

In December, voters approved a hotel tax in the area, though collection of the tax was delayed for several months. The district had been led by a volunteer triumvirate of Rinaldi Jacobs, Woodrow Muhammad and Lolitheia Turnipseed-Cotton.

However, in July, the tax revenue began to be collected. The district is projected to receive about $96,000 in the latter six months of 2017, according to a budget presented Thursday evening.

With revenue beginning to stream in, the District’s board on Thursday appointed Jacobs as their executive director and Muhammad as the deputy director. Both will earn $4,500 per month, backdated to July, or $54,000 combined through the end of the year. They have been offered contracts through the end of 2017, at which time the board’s personnel committee can revisit the matter to decide on permanent staffing.

Commissioner Jacqueline Mims urged her colleagues not to feel beholden to hiring people who donated their time until the board has a chance to more fully examine programming priorities, determine what full or part-time staff and contractors are needed, and advertise the necessary jobs.

Commissioner Gary Chambers said that if Turnipseed-Cotton continues to volunteer, the District should find a way to compensate her and suggested looking to see if the city-parish could chip in.

“‘Til it’s done, I’m going to keep saying it,” Chambers said.

“I don’t care if (President) Donald Trump brought you the appropriation, I can get you the seven (Metro Council) votes. … I guarantee it,” Chambers said.

However, the matter was not resolved Thursday. Chambers tried to shift several thousands of dollars budgeted for contract services to pay Turnipseed-Cotton, though the motion died for lack of a second.

The board approved the contracts, though Chambers abstained, as did new member James Gilmore.

The board also began the search for a permanent office to set up shop.

Jacobs and Muhammad spoke of several matters they’re trying to pursue. They are creating an interactive online map to show residential areas available for development or commercial spaces that can be rented. Potential investors have inquired where they can find warehouse space or a few acres to build new houses, Jacobs said, so he and Muhammad want to create a central site where they can peruse options.

Jacobs also reported he is courting various companies, including ones that perform hurricane reconstruction, a truck wash and light manufacturers. The district is also collaborating with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber to discuss repurposing the Cortana Mall.

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