Several projects in the works that could have a lasting impact on Baton Rouge
By Benjamin Leger and Adrian E. Hirsch
The lakes get a facelift
The City Park and LSU lakes have always been a destination for locals, despite drawbacks like limited pedestrian paths or facilities and the lakes’ poor conditions. The shallow waters and excess plant life and algae have choked out marine life, so the first step is for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the lakes and use the dredged material to create wetland infill and islands along the edges of the lakes. A master plan spearheaded by Baton Rouge Area Foundation and completed this summer calls for improved pedestrian and bike paths, boardwalks, pavilions, boathouses and an expansion of Baton Rouge Beach on Stanford Avenue.
The Water Campus
This past February, Baton Rouge Area Foundation and state and local officials broke ground on the Center for River Studies. The Center is the first building to begin construction on The Water Campus. And in late August, officials released a rendering of the Water Institute of the Gulf’s headquarters on the old city dock (below)—another key component of the Water Campus slated to begin construction later this year. The $45-million, 33-acre campus is projected to become a world-class research and engineering center that will serve as a hub for public, private, non-profit and academic collaboration to develop solutions for challenges facing coastal communities.
In 2014, former Sen. Mary Landrieu secured $1.8 million of funding for a proposed plan to update Nicholson Drive. The City of Baton Rouge’s Nicholson Corridor Plan links LSU to downtown Baton Rouge. The plan aims to create an estimated 2 million square feet of commercial buildings, 3,200 multi-family housing units and thousands of new jobs for the area as well as a high-capacity transit system linking downtown to LSU. The first sign of that renaissance came with the opening of the 1010 Nic retail center. Adjacent to the Water Campus, the former St. Vincent de Paul warehouse has been renovated to house Mercer Supply Company, Monochrome, Denicola’s Furniture & Upholstery, Jeannie Frey Rhodes Photography, an art gallery and several other local businesses.
A possible transit rail?
In September, leaders from the seven parishes between Baton Rouge and New Orleans joined forces calling for renewed efforts to get a passenger rail line connecting the super region. During a press conference, officials said the next governor of Louisiana must throw support behind the plan. Gov. Bobby Jindal rejected federal funds for high-speed rail in 2010, though leaders in Baton Rouge and New Orleans continued to work on a plan. A feasibility study claims a route with seven stops between the two hubs would take about an hour and a half one way. Planners have already discussed the railroad tracks next to the former Entergy site on Government Street as the best place for Baton Rouge’s main transit station.
Government Street redesigned
It’s been a long time coming, but the state is planning a complete overhaul of Government Street from Interstate 110 to Lobdell Avenue, bringing the busy artery down from four lanes to two with a center turning lane. Construction was set to begin in 2015, but federal approvals and traffic studies have delayed the process. City officials and urban planners see the redesign creating bike lanes and safer sidewalks along the street, with the goal of making the corridor a destination for shoppers and diners rather than a speedy cut-through to and from downtown. Already, several developments and new businesses are planned along the street, such as the Square 46 mixed-use development, redeveloping the Westmoreland Shopping Center and new homes for Cupcake Allie, chef Chris Wadsworth’s Goûter restaurant, and Chicory Coffee.
Entergy site revamp
Along Government Street, one of the biggest improvements on the horizon is to the 6.2-acre former Entergy site and the surrounding blocks. The Redevelopment Authority unveiled master plans earlier this year that call for turning the two abandoned brick buildings that front Government Street into mixed-use commercial space with loft apartments and an open-air market between them. The residential blocks around it would be upgraded with mixed-income housing.