Some businesses already are noticing an impact from IBM’s Friday opening of its Services Center in downtown Baton Rouge.
“We had at least one four-top table that was made up of IBM employees,” said Gregg Butler, general manager of Aztecas Mexican Cuisine, a restaurant located across Main Street from the tech giant’s offices. “There were a couple of other tables that were probably also IBM employees, but we couldn’t really tell.”
IBM has said about 200 people are working out of the service center and that number is projected to increase to 800 by 2017. Employees at the center are working on technology services, such as application development, application management and system integration for IBM clients.
IBM has been operating temporarily out of the Essen Centre since spring 2013, shortly after it announced plans to build the downtown offices.
The IBM offices are part of a $55 million public-private development that takes up a city block downtown that was most recently home for The Advocate. The block, bordered by North Street, River Road, Main Street and Lafayette Street, will eventually include the 525 Lafayette apartment tower, five luxury townhomes and 1,000 square feet of retail space. The 85 apartments in 525 Lafayette are set to open by the end of the year, while the townhomes and retail space should be open in early 2016.
City leaders have said IBM will transform downtown by putting a significant new employer in the middle of the central business district.
Fred Taylor, owner of Poor Boy Lloyd’s, said some IBM employees ate lunch at his Florida Street restaurant. “I wish we had known they were opening today; we could have been more prepared,” said Taylor, sitting behind the cash register in the front of the po-boy and seafood eatery.
Taylor said he’s expecting to see increased sales now that IBM is in the neighborhood. USAgencies opened an office in the 440 on Third mixed-use development in February, adding about 120 workers to downtown. “We’ve seen people from the insurance office come by our restaurant,” he said.
At the Smoothie King at North and Third streets, owner Lisa Nunez said she was busier than normal on Friday, which she said may have been a result of IBM employees. Nunez said she “had a line out the door” around noon. “We’re very excited to have IBM here,” she said.
The Downtown Development District emailed welcome guides to IBM employees to acquaint them with downtown restaurants and points of interest. “The issue is to get the word out,” said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the DDD.
Kevin Kimball, operations manager for Wayne Stabiler Companies, which owns the downtown location of The Little Village, said there was a “nice lunch business” Friday at the restaurant at Third and Main streets.
But Kimball didn’t know how much of that was attributable to IBM.
Kimball said he expects the service center will help business at the Little Village during the traditionally slow summer months. “Maybe they’ll keep our business from dropping off too much in July and August,” he said.
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate