The Times-Picayune, December 5, 2008
There currently aren’t enough businesses along the St. Claude Avenue corridor to attract the new residents needed for the area recover and thrive. But Robyn Blanpied hopes a new tax credit program will help to change that.
Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu unveiled the Louisiana Cultural Districts Initiative on Thursday, a program that provides tax breaks to art gallery operators and owners of historic buildings in 17 New Orleans neighborhoods and five sections of St. Tammany Parish, among other parts of the state.
Blanpied sees the program as a catalyst for the redevelopment of abandoned buildings in the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods.
“It will give us the critical mass to make St. Claude a success,” said Blanpied, who is manager of St. Claude Avenue Main Street, a revitalization program. “Things like this will encourage people to at least come down here and give us a look.”
That is also what Landrieu had in mind when he backed the bill establishing the tax breaks in 2007. The Cultural Districts program is run by the state Department of Culture Recreation and Tourism, which Landrieu oversees. The initiative fits with his office’s push to use Louisiana’s culture to generate economic development.
“We’ve been trying to get policymakers in New Orleans to see that they have to treat culture like any other business in the state,” Landrieu said. “Culture means jobs. Jobs make Louisiana not only a great place to visit, but to live.”
Property owners in the cultural districts are eligible for state income tax credits for rehabilitating historic residential and commercial buildings, defined as those more than 50 years old. Galleries in the districts do not have to charge state sales tax on original works of art.
In New Orleans, the districts include Oak Street, Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard and the Rampart-Basin Street corridor. Four areas, the Lower 9th Ward, Gentilly-Pontchartrain Park, Lincoln Beach and Viet Village, were added after City Council members Cynthia Willard-Lewis and Cynthia Hedge-Morrell complained that the 13 original districts included none in eastern New Orleans and just one in Gentilly.
In St. Tammany, the districts include Olde Town Cultural District in Slidell. A list of additional cultural districts will be announced in March.
“It doesn’t save the neighborhood overnight, but it will attract residents and investors,” said Greg Ensslen, president of the Freret Business and Property Owners Association and director of the Freret Market. “It’s simply a tool to get more money for your projects.”
Ensslen said he hopes more local investors than outside developers will take advantage of the development opportunities.
Lynnette Colin of the Oretha Castle Haley Merchants and Business Association is looking forward not only to what property development could mean for the corridor, which is recovering in fits and starts, but also to venues like the Ashe Cultural Arts Center that sell original artwork.
“This helps bring people into our areas,” Colin said. “And it will help the artists to sell many of their original works.”
Eventually, Landrieu said, he envisions that the Cultural Districts will redevelop in the same way that Julia Street in the Warehouse District and Magazine Street have.
“Those streets reinvented themselves,” Landrieu said. “As you’re building neighborhoods, they have to have an anchor. This is it.”