What is the BioDistrict?
The BioDistict is a political subdivision of the State of Louisiana created by Act 487 of the Louisiana Legislature in 2005. The legislation was sponsored by then-Representative Karen Carter.
The BioDistrict’s goal is the development of businesses connected with the biosciences, which is broadly defined in the Act. The BioDistrict is exempted from paying taxes (including property taxes for property owned or leased by the BioDistrict), but it has the power to tax and incur debt (this includes issuing tax-exempt bonds), to raise money and accept donations. The Act specifically gives power “to acquire and develop real estate needed to grow the academic research institutions within the district.”
The BioDistrict has never been submitted by referendum to the voters who live within its boundaries. Because it is an entity of the State, it is unclear whether City laws governing zoning, building design and preservation have jurisdiction.
Where is the BioDistrict?
The boundaries of the BioDistrict, according to the BioDistrict of New Orleans website, are Loyola Avenue, Iberville St., Carrollton Ave. and Earhart Blvd. It covers approximately 40% of the area represented by the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization (click here for MCNO’s footprint, which was recently expanded to embrace the neighborhood between S. Rocheblave St., Canal St., S. Broad and Tulane Ave.) The BioDistrict also covers the majority of Gert Town.
The BioDistrict currently has its offices at 134 LaSalle Street. It will soon move to a new building, the BioInnovation Center, which is under construction at the corner of Canal St. and Marais Streets.
BioDistrict Board meetings are held quarterly and are governed by the Louisiana Public Meetings law. THE BIODISTRICT BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS IS HOLDING A SPECIAL MEETING ON MAY 26, 2011 FROM 12:00-1:30 P.M. AT 134 LASALLE ST. THIS MEETING IS OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.
The next regular meeting of the BioDistrict Board of Commissioners will be held at 134 LaSalle St. on Thursday, July 14, 2011: 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Who is The BioDistrict?
Click here to see a list of the current members of the Greater New Orleans BioEconomic Development District, the body that runs the BioDistrict.
MCNO has created a list of the leaders of the BioDistrict. Preliminary research indicates that not one of the BioDistrict Commissioners lives within the footprint of the BioDistrict.
Why Consider the BioDistrict now?
Turnout at a recent series of planning meetings held by the BioDistrict was low, indicating that many or most residents of Mid-City don’t know what the BioDistrict is or how it will affect them. Yet statements on the BioDistrict website suggest sweeping changes that could be made to Mid-City by the BioDistrict as indicated by the BioDistrict’s most recent working paper on its master plan.
The demolition of the neighborhood next door for the VA Hospital, and the ongoing issues arising from plans for the University Medical Center, give the term “economic development” a concrete reality. These two projects will have an enormous impact on Mid-City. In this context, it is important to know what The BioDistrict’s powers are and how residents and voters can control it.
A bill in the Spring 2011 regular session of the legislature, House Bill 576, introduced by Rep. Walt Leger (Dist. 91), is devoted to the BioDistrict and thus provides an opportunity for altering, defining or limiting some of the BioDistrict’s powers. Next year’s session is a fiscal session, so the next opportunity to address the BioDistrict will be in the regular session of 2013.
What is MCNO’s Postition?
At its February 2011 Neighborhood Meeting, MCNO issued a call for volunteers to serve on a BioDistrict Working Group. The Working Group began meeting on February 20, 2011. The working group is currently composed of ten members, four of whom are MCNO board members and all but one of whom live within the Mid-City portion of the BioDistrict footprint.
While the Working Group and the MCNO Board support economic development in Mid-City, the powers granted through the BioDistrict legislation are unclear as to the potential effect of the residential areas of our neighborhood and current plans presented by the BioDistrict do not offer any direct benefit to homeowners. Therefore, in March 2011, the Working Group recommended a position of “no support” for the BioDistrict as currently formulated and recommended further research. The Board of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization adopted this Position on BioDistrict on March 29, 2011, followed by the release of this BioDistrict Press Release.
Through MCNO’s continued efforts to protect Mid-City’s residential investments and encourage commercial development, especially on the under-utilized stretch of Tulane Avenue between Broad and Carrollton, MCNO has been in communication with the BioDistrict staff and is working toward an agreement to ensure protection of Mid-City’s assets.
In April 2011, the Working Group learned of House Bill 576 and realized that it presented an opportunity to change the BioDistrict’s boundaries. At the same time, it provided a mechanism for neighborhoods to opt back into the BioDistrict, if desired, at a later date by means of a Public Hearing Process. The Working Group recommended re-drawing the boundaries of the BioDistrict to include Tulane Avenue but exclude all of the primarily residential area from S. Rocheblave to Carrollton on either side of Tulane. We did this because we are not certain what affect the BioDistrict will have on residential areas or why the BioDistrict insists that these neighborhoods be included.
All but one member of the working group endorsed this stance. The MCNO Board accepted this position, which Working Group members then presented, on April 19, to Rep. Leger. Leger made no promises.
MCNO then submitted a Letter of Request to Rep. Brossett regarding our requested amendments. The bill passed the House municipal affairs committee on Thursday, May 19, 2011 and we should be able to view the amended bill the week of May 23 to learn of any amendments. To check on the bill and find out when it will be debated on the house floor, go to http://www.legis.state.la.us/billdata/horder.asp
Discussion among members of the MCNO board on this is ongoing, even as Working Group members approach additional state representatives, other neighborhood groups, and representatives of the BioDistrict with their concerns. Board members want residents to have ample opportunity to weigh in on the BioDistrict and voice their opinions about how it should be handled.
Click here to take our online survey on the BioDistrict in Mid-City (address required). You do not have to be an MCNO member to weigh in, but you do need to reside in Mid-City for your vote to be counted.
For current information on our progress, visit the MCNO BioDistrict Progress Page.
What YOU Can Do.
- Take our Survey. Residents’ responses will be presented to legislators whose districts overlap the BioDistrict.
- Write to legislators yourself. Contact information for legislators whose districts overlap the BioDistrict now, and those whose districts will overlap it after redistricting is complete, follows: 2011 BioDistrict State Legislators Contact Sheet.
A Note from BioDistrict Working Group Coordinator Lili LeGardeur (MCNO Secretary):
The MCNO BioDistrict Working Group’s primary concern with this issue has been to reinsert the democratic process into a political arrangement that could have an enormous effect on our lives and our homes. We were not asked if we wanted to be part of the BioDistrict. We do not have elected representation on the BioDistrict Board, whose members are appointed by the Governor; therefore, we have little influence over their actions. All our efforts in the area of the BioDistrict thus far have aimed to restore some degree of voter control over development in our neighborhood.