The transformation of downtown Baton Rouge, which kicked into high gear in 2013 with the news that IBM planned to build a software development center at the site of the old Advocate building, continued throughout 2014.
The IBM Building and adjoining 525 Lafayette apartment building steadily went up during the year on the block bordered by River Road and North, Lafayette and Main streets. IBM is on track to open its offices by April or May, and the 85-unit apartment building will be open by the end of 2015. Plans also were submitted for a row of five luxury townhomes that will go up along the Main Street side of the block; if all goes well, construction should start on those in the spring.
The 440 on Third mixed-use building also took shape during 2014. The 65 luxury apartments in the old Capital One bank building are now ready for tenants, and the long-awaited Matherne’s Supermarket that will anchor the development is set to open Monday. USAgencies announced during the year that it would move its local operations and take up the top two floors of the development; those 120 employees are expected to be in place by Feb. 1.
Next door to 440 on Main is the Commerce Building, which got financing for its redevelopment and started the work in 2014. The 93-unit apartment building, which will feature a rooftop restaurant, is set to open in late 2015. Another apartment redevelopment set to open in late 2015 is the Maritime One building on France Street. Darryl Smith, a Hammond investor, bought the 35,000-square-foot office building in Catfish Town during the summer and plans to convert it into a building with 24 luxury units and parking garages.
Construction finally started on the Onyx Residences, a $7 million mixed-use development that will be built downtown at the corner of Third and Convention streets. Work on the development, which will contain 28 luxury apartments and retail space, was delayed to allow for shooting of the upcoming “Fantastic Four” movie.
Across Third Street from the Onyx is the old State Office Building, which developer Mike Wampold bought in the spring. Wampold plans to turn the 12-story art deco building into a 146-room hotel.
Wampold’s development will add to the downtown hotel market, which also features the 89-room Holiday Inn Express, set to open in March on North Boulevard, and the 147-room Courtyard by Marriott, set to open at the corner of Third and Florida streets in the second half of 2016. The Courtyard will take the city past the 1,000-room mark downtown from the current 820. Downtown and tourism leaders have said that breaking the 1,000-room barrier is a milestone because it’s a number that meeting planners consider to be crucial for scheduling events.
All of the residential and hotel activity caused downtown to add nearly 20 new businesses during 2014, including the first Raising Cane’s in the central business district; the Jolie Pearl Oyster Bar, which features a variety of fresh raw and cooked oysters from across the U.S.; a corporate office and catering hall for the local favorite Ruffino’s; and the Creative Bloc, a collaborative space that houses a variety of creative businesses.
One business group that will be downtown by late 2015 is Louisiana Realtors, which bought a home at 821 Main St. that will become its headquarters. The Realtors originally planned on demolishing the Main Street property, known as the Cangelosi Home, and building a new office on the site. But that drew opposition from the Foundation for Historical Louisiana because the home, built around 1922, was one of the last residences in the central business district. After looking at the numbers, the Realtors decided it was a better option both financially and for the sake of historic preservation to keep the home and renovate and expand it.