The head of the Downtown Development District wants to turn a 20-acre site across River Road from the Pentagon Barracks into a park, with trails and fishing ponds.
Since 1990, there has been discussion about developing the state-owned land, with plans to build boardwalks on the site. Most recently in 2008 and 2009 voters rejected capital improvement plans that would have helped fund Audubon Alive, a nature-themed tourist attraction that would have cost more than $225 million to build. But Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, said the proposed DeSoto Park would be a modest development that would cost a couple of hundred thousand dollars for trails and signs.
"You can enter from North Street and you can enjoy an authentic Louisiana attraction," Rhorer told the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday. Plans are to have a one mile trail for hiking, biking and walking, install signs identifying the plants and trees that are on the land and to stock fish in the pits that were created by the excavation of fill material.
The DDD plans to apply for a $100,000 recreational trails grant from the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism to help cover the cost of installing signs and building trails. "I would love to see a role for BREC here," said Rhorer. He said BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight has expressed interest in the idea. Other potential sources of funding could come from local nature and bicycling organizations.
"This is an opportunity for an incredible attraction in a downtown area that would really just wow people," he said. "You get to see the Mississippi River in its natural state."
Rhorer said he's waiting to hear back from the state to determine a timeline for developing the park. He said the park wouldn't preclude any future development on the site. "If there's some sort of huge project down the road they want to do, they can still do it," he said.