State of the City Address
January 9, 2013
State of the City Address
As children, we are fascinated by puzzles and I think everyone here has probably done a connect-the-dots puzzle at some point.
It’s a pretty simple concept…you draw a line, from dot-to-dot until a bigger picture can be seen.
And there is a moment…when the solution is revealed to you…and you know that everything you did prior to that…has resulted in your success.
In his now famous commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs began with a little story about connecting the dots…explaining how he dropped out of college…and because he did, he had time to sit in on classes that he wouldn’t have ordinarily taken, like a calligraphy class…which later became the main reason Apple products have such a strong graphics interface.
The point is…good things don’t happen by accident. They happen because you prepare for success.
They happen because you learn from every experience…because you develop plans…then implement them. They happen because you connect-the-dots and always keep focused on the big picture.
I’m going to share with you today how we connect the dots in our administration. How we have planned for economic development…blight elimination…redevelopment…crime prevention…and how all these things come together.
Let’s start with our overhaul of the Department of Public Works which begins to completely change the way we serve you…the public.
We’re reducing energy consumption…air pollution and costs through efficiency in our buildings and vehicles…with the price tag for conversion covered by savings in fuel and maintenance costs.
This year, we renovated a 90-year-old Junior High School to house the Public Works and Planning Center with one-stop shopping for permitting.
This is the first City-Parish building to generate its own power through solar panels…and the first to be LEED Gold Certified for
its energy efficiency.
We’ve implemented online permitting and an improved 311 Call System to handle your requests for assistance.
This year, if you have a smart phone – you can send us a complaint or request help just as easily as you would post a message on Facebook or Twitter.
Many of the requests we receive have to do with cleaning up abandoned properties…so now let’s connect the dots to how we reduce the amount of blighted properties that are not only an eyesore, but also attract crime.
We’re working on strategies to reduce blight in both residential and commercials areas…and we have already transferred over 120 tax-adjudicated
properties to our Redevelopment Authority to be returned to productive use.
We’ve worked with the RDA to reform our code enforcement process and our office will have a new Enforcement Department with enhanced capability that
will help fuel both pride and reinvestment in our city’s core.
This is one of our priorities in the FUTUREBR plan that we are moving to implement in 2013. From eliminating blight…let’s connect-the-dots to Redevelopment.
Our FUTUREBR plan focuses on redeveloping key areas of our parish as a catalyst for spurring further development.
Our 2012 budget supplement included funding for revitalizing the Smiley Heights area in Mid-City and the Governor has committed $14 million to this
In an area that has seen too much blight and crime, we will partner with the
State, the Baton Rouge Community College, and private investors to create a development that will house an auto technology center, residential housing
We also had an unexpected opportunity to purchase the 24-acre former Women’s
Hospital site to convert it to a state-of-the-art public safety complex for literally pennies on the dollar.
We have a purchase agreement for $10 million…with the property appraised for almost $20 million.
The site includes a parking garage…heliport…ample surface parking, office and warehouse space…all within close proximity to the Interstate.
Our original bond issue proposed a new headquarters for the Baton Rouge Police and the Sheriff with a joint training facility at a cost of over $100 million.
Now we have a unique opportunity to create a combined law enforcement presence in the center of the City…at a vastly reduced cost…thanks to a
seller who wanted to give something back to Baton Rouge when relocating to its new hospital campus.
We will bring the best financial proposal to the Metro Council for approval…and look forward to moving on this truly outstanding opportunity.
In another priority area of FUTUREBR…the state has committed $12 million for the widening of Essen Lane from Perkins Road to I-10 to ease congestion
in this one-mile stretch that sees 35,000 cars a day.
This is a critical component in developing our Medical District identified in our FUTUREBR plan…and North Baton Rouge is our third priority area for redevelopment projects.
With this in mind, we are working with the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the State Economic Development team with a special focus on our targeted areas.
For the past year, we’ve been working to secure a major retailer to redevelop a closed industrial site.
Working with an international chemical and energy sector company to locate a manufacturing and logistics center in Baton Rouge.
One of our chemical facilities will employ several thousand people for upgrades and expansions this year…giving further boost to our jobs market.
And we’re short-listed with one other city for a major information technology project that will give Baton Rouge national attention in the digital media industry.
We hope to make these exciting announcements in the coming months.
In addition, I have long championed recruiting international investment to
our city…and have been invited to Taiwan again this year by the Mayor of our
Sister City of Taichung who has become a friend in our work together. The
Director General of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Houston will
facilitate this trip to discuss opportunities for investment in Baton Rouge
by Taiwanese companies and, in turn opportunities for Baton Rouge companies to sell products in Taiwan.
So we have connected-the-dots from redevelopment to jobs creation.
And now from jobs creation, we can connect the dots to fighting
crime…because I have said for some time that we must address the root causes
of crime in our community…and at the same time assure a strong, professional law enforcement presence on our streets.
With the launch of our Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination Program – or
BRAVE – with a $1.5 million dollar federal grant, we are giving violent offenders an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves or face the consequences.
Our BRAVE unit has made tremendous progress in bridging the gap between community and police…and we are beginning to see the results we expected.
Since the BRAVE project began last June, it has made over 300 narcotics
arrests…seized 46 hand guns and assault weapons from felony offenders…and confiscated over $1 million dollars of drugs at street value.
To compliment this effort, our “Street Operations” patrols have made nearly 700 narcotics arrests in the same period.
Before the implementation of BRAVE, Baton Rouge was averaging 7 or more homicides a month. Since that time, the homicide rate has dropped by over 60 percent.
In 2012, the City of Baton Rouge saw 67 homicides…seven of which were the
result of domestic violence. The parish as a whole saw a total of 14 domestic violence related deaths last year.
As we continue to see deep budget cuts to mental health services and
domestic violence programs at the state level, we must realize that the fall-out from this endangers cities…and public safety.
In Baton Rouge, the state budget cuts will reduce the number of available beds in a local battered women’s shelter by one-third…and that shelter
already turns away an average of five women a day.
The Baton Rouge Shelter took in over 500 women last year and over 300 children…for temporary housing when they had to be removed from a violent situation at home.
A number of legislators have asked the Governor to reconsider some of these
cuts…and I echo that plea in light of the burdens and risks they place on local communities…and the danger they pose to the safety and lives of a very vulnerable population.
Now let’s talk about connecting the dots on a map…and our efforts to get traffic around our city and parish moving.
I am pleased to report that every project in the Green Light Program is moving forward – either completed, under construction or in design.
That means since voters approved the Green Light Program in 2005, we have committed over $500 million dollars to Green Light Projects…with nearly 30
projects complete…and you can see the results in every part of the parish.
This year, the largest road project in the history of East Baton Rouge Parish will be completed…the long awaited Central Thruway.
And in our transportation planning…we’re working with the state to transfer
some state roads within our parish to our local jurisdiction…and along with them some significant road improvement projects to relieve traffic.
We’re developing a “Great Streets” program that improves mobility and creates destinations for a more livable city. In April, we will host our
first “Better Block” program on Government Street that will be a demonstration project of temporary street-scaping to help gather public feedback for future projects.
I hope you have seen our new Town Square…that has won six national and regional awards for planning, design and construction…and hosted 131 events since it opened in April.
Repentance Park and the Galvez Plaza Stage will both be complete in February…the Hampton Inn in the next 90 days…and private investment in Downtown is booming…as we knew it would.
Along with the announcement of a new mixed use riverfront development comes word that a small grocery…a pharmacy…a new blues club…and other amenities are coming downtown.
I want to clarify something…just because I may have celebrated one of those milestone birthdays…this is NOT why the Antiques Road Show is coming to town.
This became a reality after improvements to our River Center helped land
Baton Rouge as one of 8 national stops on the Antiques Road Show 2013 tour…our first time to host this popular program that is generating a lot of
excitement, and more importantly is the highest rated ongoing primetime PBS series in public television.
Some final notes:
Soon, we will complete our 8th new Fire Station and in February, a new academy class of firefighters will graduate…with the 2013 budget including
funds for another class…all to help maintain the longest standing Class One rating in America.
While handling emergencies from Hurricane Isaac to the tanker spill on
I-10…our Mayor’s Office of Homeland Security again received national accreditation and still remains one of only 13 local jurisdictions in America to hold this achievement.
Bayou Country Superfest individual tickets went on sale today, so it’s time to dust off your boots for another incredible line-up of some of the top
stars of country music. Remember, Baton Rouge has become a Memorial Day weekend destination…and that’s good news for local businesses.
Our Baton Rouge Film Commission has recruited over 100 productions generating more than $500 million dollars to our community.
840 local businesses have become involved…with over 1200 working local cast and crew members.
Connect-the-dots…this is truly one of our most successful economic development success stories.
In 2013, we expect job growth for East Baton Rouge Parish. Housing sales are up and sales tax revenues have rebounded strongly.
I plan to focus on new initiatives like medical branding, letting people know you do not need to leave Baton Rouge to get quality health care…job
training…and educational outreach, emphasizing math and science programs with internships in the public and private sector to help prepare our
children for the careers of tomorrow.
Soon, we will conduct another planning process with input from citizens throughout the parish to identify priorities for these next four years. I
find that the best way to move our community forward is to get people engaged.
We are committed to working with the Metro Council…for we cannot lose our capacity to work well together for the good of our community. It is my hope
that we can move beyond parochial thinking and always put East Baton Rouge Parish first.
Henry Ford said, coming together is a beginning…keeping together is progress…and working together is success.
Remember…connect-the-dots. Success doesn’t happen by accident…and it’s important to stay focused on the big picture.
Ladies and Gentlemen…it’s my pleasure to report to you that our city and
parish are strong and our local economy the envy of cities across America for its resilience and its vitality.
We have accomplished so much together…come through difficult times and remain committed to a better future for our children and grandchildren.
This story we are writing together is far from over.
Beginning this new term as your Mayor-President, I feel we have a new chapter to write…and I believe it just might be our best.
I know there will be some exciting twists…some interesting new characters…and you won’t believe how good the ending will be.
May God Bless the good people of Baton Rouge, Zachary, Baker, Central and all of East Baton Rouge Parish. And may God Bless America.