Residents of Beauregard Town, Old South Baton Rouge and the LSU area Tuesday evening told officials what kinds of new buildings and improvements they would like to see in the area that may some day be serviced by a tram running down Nicholson Drive.
“This area is undergoing a lot of development … and the tram will bring more,” said John Fregonese, whose firm has been hired to study land use for the project.
“Tonight is not about designing the tram. It’s about what’s going to happen to the community around the tram,” he said.
About 35 residents sat around tables filled with maps showing blighted and vacant properties. Fregonese asked them what types of buildings the neighbors would like to see. Using personal devices, they cast votes, which tallied on a screen.
They were in favor of apartments, single-family houses, small businesses and office space. Food trucks, grocers, bars and restaurants all won their approval as well. With the exception of big box stores, the majority favored just about any type of development.
There were other suggestions as well. Several people said they would like especially to see more black-owned businesses, saying such stores were once far more common in the area. Others remarked that sidewalks and other amenities would be nice but that no one would use them until crime is reduced.
But overall, attendees were enthusiastic about the proposed tram and the business it would generate.
“I’m excited about it,” said Garrick Mayweather, building director of the McKinley Alumni Center, where Tuesday’s meeting was held.
Chris Nichols, who lives in Beauregard, said she’s visited Portland, Oregon, and was impressed by their tram system. She said Baton Rouge needs to look at new transportation plans and looks forward to a tram route in her neighborhood.
“I am so excited about this,” she said. “This thing will pay (back) what we put into it.”
While the tone at the forum was often wildly optimistic, and people dreamed big dreams, the tram is still at least several years away. According to a presentation, the city-parish intends to apply for a Small Starts grant from the Federal Transit Administration, though the precise plan to pay for the tram, which could run $100 million, has not yet been determined. Planners have not even settled on a final route design.
Still, residents broke into teams and set to marking up their maps, showing planning officials what sites they would like to keep and where they would like to see new services.
Ollie Doucette showed off her map, which recommends attracting a market or grocer to River Road or Highland Road. Her group also thought the intersection of Highland and Washington Street may be suited to mixed-use buildings with street-level shops and upstairs apartments.
Two of the three proposed tram route designs call for a loop downtown. Several residents who live near the southern end also wondered if there could be a loop on their side as well, with trams running down both Nicholson and Highland.
Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.