City leaders began Tuesday another project to replace brick and concrete in downtown Baton Rouge with grass and trees.

A courtyard behind City Hall near the River Center is being converted as part of efforts to plant more green spaces in the urban core. Plans call for grassy recreational areas along the Mississippi River that form a continuous path around various civic and cultural buildings before linking up with the Downtown Greenway that runs down North Boulevard. Sites like the Louisiana Science Museum, the Shaw Center and the court buildings will all be linked by what's being called the Central Green, said Davis Rhorer, director of the Downtown Development District.

Several speakers at Tuesday's symbolic groundbreaking called the area behind city hall Baton Rouge's "front porch." Returning the land to green space will reinforce the city's historical relationship to the Mississippi River, they said.

The effort is part of a larger endeavor to revamp downtown. Tuesday's event occurred just steps from the River Center Library, where the old branch was recently demolished and the frame of the new library has just begun to rise. The debris from the old Department of Public Works building has been hauled off and the Public Defender's office is slated to be knocked down as well.

The City Hall plaza project will also include a few other upgrades. The entrance to the parking garage beside the Galvez Stage is being covered and turned into a dance floor for events like Live After Five and other performances. The Crest Sculpture — the curving silver-colored installation that hangs over the stage — will get new lighting. A sound system is being installed as well. Whereas the existing courtyard featured steps throughout, the new design will be more accessible for visitors who use wheelchairs, according to a news release.

The Peace Officers' Memorial that commemorates police and sheriff's deputies killed in the line of service will be moved — at least for the time being — to the city police headquarters on Airline Highway.

The overall project is expected to cost a total $4.9 million. It is being funded by state sales tax rebates set aside for riverfront improvements.

During construction, the parking garage next to City Hall will be closed. Construction is scheduled to conclude by the end of 2017.

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