Mayor Friday Ellis says his administration is weighing a plan to commit tax revenues from Monroe’s mid-city area to the construction of a research park aimed at attracting biomedical, science and technology companies to the region.
As reported earlier this year, the Biomedical Research and Innovation Park (BRIP), a nonprofit organization, partnered with the University of Louisiana-Monroe with the goal of occupying a new facility near the university’s College of Pharmacy facility off Tower Drive.
Ellis’ administration recently asked state Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office to issue a legal opinion about the legality of pledging revenues from the Tower-Armand Tax Increment Financing District to the construction of BRIP’s facility.
A portion of city and state tax revenues from the Tower-Armand district are dedicated to the construction and improvement of infrastructure within the district to kindle economic development.
According to BRIP board members, the research park has about $1 million to commit to the new facility project. Ellis and BRIP’s board members have not indicated how much money might be committed from the Tower-Armand district’s coffers.
“Obviously, the park is in development right now,” said Sue Nicholson, a BRIP board member. “We know what property we have. We have an idea of the building size. As you know, that takes funding. We have some in hand. Those are funds that are left over from other projects that have been built.”
BRIP is planning to build one 60,000-square foot building, including laboratories, office space and research spaces. BRIP claims that, in its initial stages, it could create some 60 jobs with an average salary of $60,000. The number of jobs at the research park could rise to 100, according to BRIP.
“Louisiana Economic Development encouraged us to look at a capital outlay request,” Nicholson said. “We’re going to do that. We’re also considering some grants.”
The AG’s opinion found no legal barriers to the signing of a cooperative endeavor agreement between BRIP and the Tower-Armand district, especially in light of ULM’s involvement in the research park.
“Hence, utilizing District funds to purchase land and construct buildings to be used by ULM and private companies that will generate economic activity falls within the District’s purpose,” stated the AG’s Aug. 24 letter.
Assistant Attorney General Craig Cassagne Jr. signed the AG’s letter.
Monroe developer Joe Holyfield, who serves on BRIP’s board of directors, said the research park could possibly use funds from the Tower-Armand district as matching funds for grants, for construction, or public infrastructure improvements.
“With that comes economic development and jobs to our community,” Holyfield said.
As long as city officials found BRIP’s proposal convincing, the Tower-Armand District’s public funds would not be at risk, according to the AG’s office.
“The District will receive the benefit of more jobs, which will presumably generate more economic activity, followed by more tax revenue,” stated the AG’s letter. “Here, as long as the District reasonably believes it will receive some benefit for its expenditure of public funds, the transaction does not appear gratuitous when taken as a whole.”
The Monroe City Council is expected to consider any recommendation made by Ellis pertaining to the expenditure of the Tower-Armand district’s funds.
“There are more conversations that my team and I still need to have before I make an official recommendation,” Ellis said.
According to BRIP board member Ray Armstrong, the research park’s long-term plan includes the construction of several buildings, in phases, as needed by ULM and private companies engaged in research projects.
Armstrong said an organization was interested in occupying two floors. He declined to name the outfit, though he said an announcement was expected soon.
“I was excited to see it because it is an aspirational project,” Nicholson said. “Instead of looking at what we can do now for the sake of something now, this project focuses our attention on what we can do now for the sake of the future.”