When Mayor-President Kip Holden announced in March that the city-parish would move forward with longtime plans to make Government Street more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, businesses and developers quickly took notice.
Developers and retailers have announced plans over the past few months to build new apartment space, restaurants, coffee shops and other hip new businesses that many expect to help revitalize the colorful midcity corridor.
Eight months later, excitement remains, despite delays in moving the road project forward due to funding issues. The plan for Government Street has yet to be finalized, and the timeline for the project is being shifted into 2016.
The idea is to downsize Government Street from four lanes to two lanes plus a turning lane. The road will be lined with bike paths and sidewalks to encourage activity from surrounding neighborhoods. The plans span a 4-mile stretch of Government Street from Lobdell Avenue to Interstate I-110.
Holden initially said he hoped the project would begin construction this year and would be finished by the end of next year. But it’s taking longer than expected because of requirements associated with using federal dollars financing the project.
Mike Bruce, a principal with Stantec, design consultant for the project, said he initially thought funds for the projects were from the state, which would have allowed for a quicker process. Instead, the money is being funneled from the federal government through the state, which means there are a few more hoops they have to jump through in order to be eligible.
To use federal funds, an environmental impact study has to be conducted in which planners consider alternatives. The process also requires public feedback, and then the federal government has to approve the plan, which can sometimes be a sluggish process.
“The approval process is where part of that time will be lost,” Bruce said.
He said planners have begun meeting with stakeholders and civic associations, and will hold public meetings early next year, adding that public input could ultimately change plans for the project.
The plan initially was conceived as a roadway with bike paths and sidewalks throughout. However, some property owners already have expressed a desire for on-street parking rather than bike paths.
Bruce said it’s also possible that at very heavily trafficked intersections, like Foster Drive, bike paths might be detoured through side streets for safety.
“So much can change if we run into issues during the public process, if we can’t come to a consensus,” Bruce said. “We can’t make promises at this phase.”
The project’s cost is being estimated at $8 million to $10 million.
Construction will create some disruptions once it kicks off. In some parts, concrete will have to be cut out and patched. In other parts, new asphalt will be laid. The whole street will have to be restriped.
Bruce said the construction contract will require workers to keep one lane of traffic open at all times.
The project is being made possible through a special road transfer program, in which the state is turning over state roads, including Government Street, to local control. In exchange for taking control of the road, the state also is giving the city-parish $13 million in maintenance fund credits from a federal allocation.
Government Street has been earmarked by Baton Rouge officials to be the first beneficiary of the maintenance funds.
Businesses and developers are already jumping on board.
Businesses that have announced plans to open locations on Government Street include Anthony’s Italian Deli, a Florida Boulevard restaurant known for its muffulettas and meatball sandwiches; Chicory Coffee, a drive-thru gourmet coffee shop; and Giraphic Prints, a graphic design and T-shirt business.
Developer Danny McGlynn is investing $1.6 million into the space on a block near Baton Rouge Magnet High School between Ogden and Bedford drives, which he has described as a “healthy, hip” development with improved landscaping, parking and signage.
Meanwhile, a nonprofit group tied to Catholic High School has plans to redevelop the Westmoreland Shopping Center. And the East Baton Rouge Parish Redevelopment Authority has been working on redeveloping the area surrounding the old Entergy site at 1509 Government St.
The most recent announcement is for a 25,000-square-foot mixed-use development that will be called Square 46, built at the former Giamanco’s restaurant site at 4646 Government St.
“Government Street is poised to do great things because of the connection to downtown and to the neighborhoods of Baton Rouge,” architect and developer Josh Hoffpauir said. “This project is a catalyst for anyone who wants to be on Government Street or has been on the edge.”
Eric Troutman, the Garden District Civic Association president, said his neighbors are generally excited about the impending changes.
“We’re a very active neighborhood, so anything that makes it more pedestrian-friendly, that encourages walking, that reduces fuel emissions with bike lanes, is going to be well received,” he said. “We’re excited about the potential that the development will have for all of midcity.”