Building a better Baton Rouge


Beautification is also about making the lakes healthier for future generations

Status: Waiting on funding to begin dredging/first phase

Anyone driving through Baton Rouge on I-10 early this fall could see a giant eyesore in what some consider our crown jewel: City Park Lake covered in green slime and dead fish.

Hot temperatures and shallow water led to an algae bloom that sucked up all the oxygen.

People asked how the problem could be fixed and kept from spreading to the larger University Lake. Put chemicals in the water? Stock the lake with carp to eat vegetation? But BREC, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the Army Corps of Engineers and others have sounded the alarm for more than a decade on a long-term solution for the entire six-lake system.

“Everyone has some fond memories they can tell about spending time at the lakes. Up until this recent algae bloom, it was a beautiful place. The lakes are dying right in front of our eyes,” says BRAF Executive Vice President John Spain. “Our goal first and foremost is to make the lakes healthy again, and we know how to do that.”

In 2016, BRAF developed a sweeping revitalization plan with improved trails, boardwalks, a promenade and a boathouse. But momentum has been sluggish with a projected price tag of $40 million and a complex web of ownership involved—the city, state and LSU all own lakes in the system, while BREC manages them.

The first step is also the least sexy: draining the lakes and dredging muck from the bottom. The benefits are two-fold: 1) increase the lakes’ depth, and
2) use that sediment to build barrier islands and wetlands on the water’s edge.

A diverse arrangement of ecological buffers around the lakes would combat erosion, filter runoff from surrounding neighborhoods and keep the overall system clean, according to Amanda Takacs, BREC’s assistant director of natural resource management. It would also provide attractive habitat for wildlife.

Once the lakes are cleaned up, work would begin on visitor amenities. Crews would replace the May Street connector that separates City Park and University lakes with a proper bridge, allowing water and paddlers to move freely between the two.

The May Street area would include the largest buildout over new land, with a playground, new picnic lawn and parking lot, and the start of the Dalrymple Promenade—a boardwalk extending to Knock Knock Children’s Museum.

At Milford Wampold Park, the land usage expands, too, with an improved beach, a boat launch and other attractions.

Officials are cautiously optimistic about procuring funding. But this is one project where time is of the essence to save its beauty.

“There’s a lot of funding that will have to be raised, and it’s going to be a multiyear project,” Spain says. “But we have no choice except to fix the lakes.” batonrougelakes.org


Iconic Chase South Tower being prepped for a remodel and tricked-out additions

A rendering of the Chase South Tower’s east side addition. Courtesy Wampold Companies/Gensler.

Status: Waiting on historic building tax credits to begin first phase

When developer Mike Wampold scooped up the 21-story Chase South Tower in early 2018, it expanded his already large portfolio of downtown buildings that includes its sister office building—Chase North Tower—and the refurbished Watermark Hotel.

At press time, Wampold was waiting on approval for historic building tax credits to offset the cost of the projected $50 million overhaul. That includes a first phase of roughly 75 luxury residential units on the top five floors and a rooftop pool. After that, Wampold envisions expanding the base of the 1960s building with two-story wings extending over the recognizable red brick plazas to the east and west.

One side will comprise retail and office space, the other potentially housing an event ballroom. Both wings would be encased entirely in glass, giving passersby a glance inside what’s otherwise a brutalist concrete monolith.


Assembling the pieces for a cohesive health district modeled after Houston

Number of patients expected to pass through Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital’s emergency room annually. Photo by Collin Richie.

Status: Ongoing

However it came to be, Baton Rouge’s major health care facilities all seem to be centered on one neighborhood. Baton Rouge General, Our Lady of the Lake, Pennington Biomedical Center and a host of specialized services, rehab clinics and labs occupy space along Essen Lane, Bluebonnet Boulevard and Perkins Road.

In 2015, a coalition led by BRAF put together a master plan to tie them all together with some sort of infrastructural harmony for the congested roads.

The recent additions of the sparkling new Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital and Ochsner’s High Grove medical complex make a cohesive plan more important than ever.

The proposal calls for a new I-10 exit between Essen and Bluebonnet, as well as several connector roads to alleviate traffic.

A shuttle service is recommended, as well as a designated space for a future train station, should passenger rail to New Orleans ever come to fruition.

And while much of this is still in preliminary design stages, we’re already seeing work on one component: Segments of the 7.4-mile Health Loop Trail for pedestrians and bicyclists were built in recent years.

Eventually, bikers and joggers could take the Health Loop Trail from Pennington all the way to Pecue Lane along Dawson and Ward creeks, adding another health benefit to the district. brhealthdistrict.com

This article was originally published in the November 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.

Click here to see more stories from our Imagining the Future cover story.