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Downtown Baton Rouge a Model for Revitalization

Note: This is the fourth in a series of articles on city redevelopments in Louisiana. Read this article for specifics on Downtown Baton Rouge, this article about development in Shreveport, read this article covering the recent updates to Hammond, La’s bustling downtown area and this article to hear about Lake Charles.

Lights aglow and music pulsing, Baton Rouge’s once sleepy Third Street is a buzzing hub of arts and entertainment today. Music lovers enjoy well-known contemporary acts in the intimate 300-seat Manship Theatre inside the sleek Shaw Center for the Arts. Diners nosh on inventive Southern and global cuisine in restaurants up and down the street. Families and friends take part in outdoor concerts, marathons and parades around the North Boulevard Town Square. Visitors find cozy comfort in boutique hotels, while neighborhood residents – a growing number of them — return home to modern lofts and apartments, their daily lives now supported by a grocery store, a pharmacy and an urgent care clinic.

It’s not just Third Street where new projects and amenities have taken root. Since 1987, $2.3 billion has been invested in downtown Baton Rouge, including $835 million in public projects and $1.47 billion in private projects. These, along with business-friendly policies that remove uncertainty for investors, have helped downtown Baton Rouge fight back from decades of decline and become a case study in urban renewal.

It didn’t happen overnight. The Baton Rouge Downtown Development District and its community partners have been at work on revitalizing downtown in earnest since the mid-nineties when it initiated a significant planning process that helped the city envision what a revived downtown could look like. Since then, several elements working together have been responsible for downtown’s return, an area that was once the civic and commercial heart of Baton Rouge.

“Having a great vision and master plan, great staff and creating an environment of stability and predictability for developers has made the difference,” says Baton Rouge Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer. “Tax Increment Financing (TIF) has been a powerful incentive for hotels, and historic preservation tax credits, both state and federal, have made the difference with residential developments up and down Third Street.”

One of the early catalyst projects was the commitment of the state of Louisiana to consolidate state department buildings in the downtown area, creating the Capitol Park Complex in 2000 and bringing 3,000 state workers to the daytime economy.

Attracting new hotels has also been a big part of the downtown master plan. The DDD’s longtime goal, says Rhorer, was to establish a minimum of 1,000 hotel rooms to support the large riverfront entertainment venue, the Raising Cane’s River Center Arena. No hotels existed in downtown in 2001, but today, there are seven offering a total number of 1,175 rooms.

The Downtown Arts and Entertainment District, anchored by Third Street, creates walkable arts, culture and entertainment opportunities for all ages at the soon to be renovated River Center Performing Art Theatre, the River Center Arena and the Shaw Center for the Arts. Outdoor concerts and fine arts galleries are also a big part of the arts experience. Patrons combine their arts outings with stop-offs at one of 52 downtown restaurants and 20 bars, evidence of the synergistic impact of public and private investment.

A short distance south on the riverfront is the 30-acre Water Campus, which holds The Water Institute for the Gulf, an international research facility, the LSU Center for River Studies, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, a co-work space, an event space, conference center and forthcoming residential space.

It’s not the only spot for new residential space. Downtown has seen a significant turn in the number of places to own or rent. Baton Rouge’s oldest historic neighborhoods, Spanish Town and Beauregard Town, are located in downtown, but are now joined by modern apartments, lofts, condos and other residential opportunities for a variety of income levels. Today, the neighborhood features 4,036 occupied housing units and another 316 planned or in development. These investments, and many others, are helping to transform downtown Baton Rouge from a 9-5 culture, to one that unfolds round-the-clock.

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