Up to 150 high-rise apartments will be added to downtown Baton Rouge with the redevelopment of the Chase South Tower, giving the central business district at downtown's core  nearly a third more apartments than are on the market now.

Starting the first half of 2019, developer Mike Wampold, who bought the tower at 451 Florida St. in February, said he plans to convert the upper 10 stories to luxury apartments.

“We think downtown will continue to grow,” Wampold said. While Baton Rouge's central business district has a number of low-rise and mid-rise residences, defined as being less than 10 stories, high-rise apartments are a new feature, he said.

A floor plan circulated by Wampold shows a variety of apartment sizes, ranging from one-bedroom units as small as 736 square feet to a three-bedroom unit at 1,366 square feet. Rent for the units is expected to be $1.60 to $2 per square foot. A number of amenities will be added to the property, such as a rooftop pool and a health club/fitness center.

“We think this live, work, play concept is alive and well with millennials,” Wampold said.

More than 9,400 people live in downtown Baton Rouge, which includes the central business district at its core and the adjoining neighborhoods of Spanish Town, Beauregard Town, Downtown East and Capital View North. The Downtown Development District estimates there are 3,012 rental units in the area, 437 of which have been built since 2008.

Within the core business district itself, there are 337 apartment units, Downtown Development District officials said. Construction is wrapping up on The Heron Downtown, adding a 142-unit complex at the corner of Florida and Sixth streets, where tenants should start moving in by early November. Wampold's development will add another 140 to 150 units to the mix, giving the CBD a total of more than 600 apartments.

When Wampold purchased the 330,000-square-foot Chase South Tower earlier this year, he said his plans were to turn the property into a mixed-use development, with retail, residential and office space. A series of studies were recently completed that showed the structure, plaza and roof could support the proposed changes. “We’re going to get deep in the planning part of it now,” he said.

Discussions are underway with “big companies” to take up multiple floors of office space in the Chase South Tower, Wampold said. He’s also talking to people about setting up shared workspaces in some of the office space, which would allow for utilization by smaller businesses. The plaza level of the building would be converted into retail space.

The Chase South Tower has been open since 1967. Some of its tenants include Chase Bank, Albemarle and the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry temporarily relocated into the property while it built a new office. Albemarle has drastically reduced its presence in Baton Rouge and its lease on the property expires in 2021. This has created an opportunity to back-sell the space for residences and offices.

Historic tax credits would be used to cover some of the costs of redeveloping the building. Because of this, Wampold said the residences have to be rentals for at least five years. “They may eventually become condos,” he said.

Wampold owns four other downtown properties: the adjoining Chase North Tower at 450 Laurel; the City Plaza and II City Plaza office buildings, both on North Boulevard; and the Watermark Baton Rouge hotel on Third Street.

“We think downtown will continue to grow,” he said. The Jones Walker law firm announced this summer it will move into City Plaza I at the end of 2019, which will add about 100 jobs downtown. “Downtown is the biggest employment center.”

By adding more jobs and places for people to live, more services will come to the area, further attracting more potential tenants, Wampold said.

Outside the central business district, a number of apartment complexes have been built in recent years, such as The Elysian, a 100-unit mixed-income development on Spanish Town Road and The Elias, a 25-unit complex in Beauregard Town. The Elysian II, a second 100-unit development is under construction, and Valencia Park, a 122-unit complex aimed at veterans that would be built next to Spanish Town Park, is in the works.

The bulk of the apartments have been built in recent years. Since 2015, 290 apartments have opened within the core business district. Most of the units have been in redevelopments like the Chase South Tower: the old Commerce Building on Laurel Street, the former Capital One building on Main Street, the Onyx building on Third Street and the One Maritime building on France Street.

Craig Davenport of the real estate appraisal firm Cook, Moore, Davenport & Associates, who tracks the Baton Rouge apartment market, said the apartments in the central business district have some of the highest rental rates in the city. Rates range from between $1.70 a square foot for some units in The Heron, to more than $2 for 525 Lafayette, the complex that adjoins the IBM building.

Despite the rental rates, when Davenport surveyed the downtown apartment market in the spring, he found the vacancy rates were about 10 percent. That’s a little bit higher than the 7 percent vacancy rate in the overall Baton Rouge market, he said.

“I expect the downtown numbers would be better now, based on what has happened in other areas of town since then,” he said.


Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.