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Beautification could spur growth, economic development director says

LAPLACE — Beautification of highway exits leading into St. John the Baptist Parish will hopefully

serve as a catalyst to economic development along the Interstate 10 corridor, Economic

Development Director Stanley Bienemy said.

During a council meeting this past Tuesday night, Bienemy said a joint initiative has been

launched with the Office of Economic Development and the Planning and Zoning Office to look

at ways to make the exits more attractive to visitors. Bienemy is proposing gateways, which he

defined as attracting visitors to a particular location, by making improvements to the Belle

Terre and U.S. Highway 51 exits.

“We would like to make them more welcoming for the traffic that passes by on a daily basis,”

Bienemy said.

Statistics from 2014 show that on average 50,382 cars pass Exits 206 and 209 daily. He said an

average of 16,390 cars exit at Belle Terre, explaining the low numbers are “partially because of

visibility and landscaping and the overall welcoming of that particular gateway to the parish.”

He said enhancing the attractiveness of each exit would allow for more commercial

development not only at those gateways but hopefully into the parish by bringing more visitors

into the community off of the interstate. Additionally, the parish would have more economic

tools to guide development at the major interchanges.

“Parish President (Jaclyn) Hotard has prioritized streamlining permitting. The natural step is to

continue to attract major restaurant and retail opportunities by focusing on areas of

opportunity at the major entrances to the parish,” said Planning & Zoning Director Rene

Pastorek.

“Also, to capitalize on our location between two of the largest metro areas (New Orleans and

Baton Rouge) in the state. Planning and zoning can work together (with economic

development) to facilitate growth.”

Councilman Tom Malik said hotels off of the two interchanges have invested millions of dollars

in landscaping and other improvements and the parish owes it to all area businesses as well as

residents to make improvements that will help attract businesses to locate in the parish.

“Getting off at (exit) 206 is not inviting,” he said. “It does not look like a place anyone would

want to stay. I would like to see changes to some of those properties that are blighted. That will

be a big help.”

Councilwoman Tammy Houston said the improvements are necessary and needed to attract

visitors.

In other action, the council authorized the parish to enter into a Cooperative Endeavor

Agreement with the state through the Department of Transportation to complete the permit

for the LA SAFE Airline and Main Complete Streets Project. Pastorek said construction has not

started on the state-funded $6 million project, but, once approval is received from DOTD, the

final package will be presented to the council.

The project includes a number of improvements from Tiffany Drive near Ochsner Hospital to

Main and Fifth streets in LaPlace. He said improvements will include sidewalks and other

amenities.

Once the state grants approval, Pastorek said a rendering of the project will be posted on the

parish website.

For the second time in a little more than a year, parish resident Suzi Guerin appeared before

the council asking for an update on sink holes on her property and canal sliding at the Vicknair

Canal. Guerin said the sinkhole in her backyard is getting out of control and has damaged her

fence, to the point where her dogs are able to get out and other dogs are able to get in.

It appears one of the sinkholes is in her backyard and another possibly on a public servitude.

Parish engineer consultant Joseph Savoie has worked tirelessly on the problem, with no

solution, and has even sent data to Eustis Engineering in New Orleans for recommendations.

Savoie said various solutions have been attempted but none have solved the problem, leaving

him “baffled.”

Adding to the complexity is determining if the culprit is on private or parish property, since the

parish cannot make improvements on private property.

Savoie acknowledged the sliding of the Vicknair Canal will be resolved by dredging, which is

scheduled to begin in the next 60 to 90 days.

Hotard told Guerin the parish is on her side, doing everything it can to assist her.