Spurred by a wave of upscale apartment construction in the central business district, the population of downtown Baton Rouge grew by 5 percent in 2016.
There are now 9,099 people living in the neighborhood, most of them single and many of them with higher incomes, according to the 2017 Downtown Toolkit released earlier this month by the Downtown Development District.
“The new developments are all doing extremely well,” said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District. “They’re all pretty much full or right below it.”
There's been a boom in apartment construction in the central business district in recent years. In 2015, the 440 on Third and 525 Lafayette developments opened, adding 150 units. In 2016, the 93-unit Commerce Building redevelopment at Laurel and Third streets opened, along with the 28-unit Onyx Residences at the corner of Third and Convention streets and the seven-unit Grand Lady redevelopment at 310 Convention. In January, the 18-unit Maritime One building, across the street from the Raising Cane’s River Center, opened.
Over the past five years, the Downtown Development District says there has been more than $158 million invested in residential housing in the downtown area.
The market isn’t cooling off. Three complexes are under construction: the Lofts @ 6C, a 142-unit development that is being built at the corner of Florida and Sixth streets; the 25-unit Beauregard Quarters development at Napoleon and America streets; and the six-unit redevelopment of the Saltz Building at 442 Main St.
Construction should start soon on The Elysian II, a 100-unit mixed-income development at 1120 Spanish Town Road. And Collis Temple is redeveloping the 52-unit DeVille Apartment complex at the intersection of North and 11th streets.
John O. Hearin, who is developing the Lofts @ 6C, said he’s been bullish on the downtown housing market for about five or six years. Now, the area has major employers such as state government and IBM; necessary amenities for residents, such as the Matherne’s Market and Prescriptions to Geaux pharmacy; and new housing.
“It’s not one piece; it’s several pieces,” he said. “It’s taken many years to fit all of the pieces together.”
The Lofts @ 6C are set to open in spring 2018. Hearin has said the development will include 60 one-bedroom and 82 two-bedroom units, ranging in size from 700 square feet to 1,100 square feet. Rent will range from $950 to $2,000 a month. The first two floors of the lofts will consist of retail space and a parking garage with about 260 spots.
The four U.S. census tracts that cover downtown include a larger area than the Downtown Development District boundaries, which are defined as the area bounded by the Kansas City Southern railroad to the east, Choctaw Drive to the north, Myrtle Street to the south and The Water Campus to the west. That’s why some of the demographic numbers don’t reflect the makeup of downtown, like the fact that 31 percent of residents in the census tracts have an annual household income of less than $15,000.
Downtown officials point to figures, such as the number of residents who make more than $75,000 a year increased by 10 percent over the past year, and now make up 16 percent of the population, the second-largest share of the market. There’s also been an increase in single residents, who account for 84 percent of people living in the area.
The average rent in the central business district is $1.84 per square foot, according to the Downtown Development District. In Beauregard Town, rents are $1.36 per square foot, narrowly beating out Spanish Town, where the average rental price is $1.35 per square foot. Those are all rates well above the Baton Rouge average, which is $1.08 per square foot.
Gabe Vicknair, assistant executive director for the Downtown Development District, said the hope is that the increasing population leads to more development downtown. “We would like to move into an era of more retail and more basic services,” he said. “With the newer developments, the hope is that they will provide the square footage to support a cluster of retail.”