Construction has started on the first phase of Pointe-Marie, which developers say will be a $500 million traditional neighborhood development on a 120-acre swath between River Road and Nicholson Drive.

The goal is to complete the infrastructure work by April and have some of the first 159 homes completed. Along with the houses, the first phase will contain 36,000 square feet of commercial space and $3.3 million in investments, including parks, a pool and public squares. 

The idea is to create something like living in a resort, said Rhaoul Guillaume Jr., who has been developing Pointe-Marie for the past five years with his sons. Guillaume, who serves as project manager for Gotech Consulting Engineers, a Baton Rouge company, has been working with Chris Kent, who was a consultant with Seaside, Florida, one of the premier traditional neighborhood developments.

“I thought Seaside was something that could work here in Baton Rouge,” Guillaume said. “I liked the quality and the detail work. I thought it was something with a unique quality that could be a nice showcase.”

To that end, Guillaume and Kent are working on developing a community around Pointe-Marie, by hosting a range of events so people become aware of the site and associate it with activity. They’ve already hosted a lecture from an LSU professor about the wildlife that lives on the site, just west of L’Auberge casino.

Seaside hosted all sorts of free activities in the early days of that development, from cooking demonstrations to screening art movies. The idea was just to bring people to the property, putting it in their mind, Kent said.

“These very small, intimate gatherings were absolute keys to how Seaside began,” Kent said. For Kent, this plays into his idea that too many TNDs don’t have amenities or public spaces in their early stages of development. “People have forgotten how new villages came up,” he said.

Kent notes that people are more social when they’re on vacation than when they are at home, and more likely to talk to strangers. The goal is to create a setting where people feel comfortable being around each other.

“We all miss gathering,” Kent said. “We’re trying to bring back the notion of gathering without having to shop. ... There shouldn’t be an opportunity for you to wait to gather only when you’re on vacation or during the weekend.”

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Guillaume connected with Kent through Nick Vlahos, a consultant who has worked on neighborhoods such as Redfish Village, a Florida condominium development. One of Guillaume’s sons, Rhaoul Jr., went to Tulane with Vlahos.

“Rhaoul reached out to me and told me about the land and the project and the financial analysis that had been done,” Vlahos said. “That’s when I brought Chris in.”

Pointe-Marie eventually is expected to have 565 single-family residential units; a village center with 285 multifamily units and 275,000 square feet of retail and commercial office space; a film district where post-production work on movies can be done; a motor coach square with 236 parking spots; and two hotels. Guillaume said he’s looking at a “12- to 14-year” build-out.

The motor coach development will be an important part of Pointe-Marie in the future. It was included after Guillaume said studies showed Baton Rouge lacked amenities for the recreational vehicle market. 

Guillaume and Kent said they’re working “real closely” with the neighboring L’Auberge casino resort. Because of the proximity to Pointe-Marie and the different amenities each property will have, they see a way to tie them together, although nothing formal has been agreed upon.

Lots in Pointe-Marie will start at $66,000 and have an average price of $79,900. A soft opening for sales will start later this month. There will be no minimum size for houses, but there will be strict guidelines on how houses will look, so they fit the overall design of the development. 

The development has a unique agreement with First Guaranty Bank of Hammond, where the bank will provide home loans for 90 percent of the cost, provided the buyer has a credit score of 620 or above. The bank is also providing loans to Pointe-Marie builders. For those buying a home from a builder, the down payment is 5 percent. Vlahos said Pointe-Marie is looking at working with other lenders.

The plan is to make living in Pointe-Marie like staying in a resort permanently. There will be concierge services set up, where people can arrange things like grocery deliveries, schedule appointments and airport drop-offs and pick-ups. “Everything will occur on the site for people,” Kent said.

“We like the concept of this village theme and a resort for family gatherings,” Guillaume said. “We feel that the uniqueness and the special quality really will work.”

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.