2 downtown streets due face-lift

The Downtown Development District will oversee a $300,000 overhaul of the streetscape on Lafayette and Florida streets. The goal is to help the streets keep pace with the commercial development of the past dozen years and better connect them to the North Boulevard Town Square.

The square, along with the overhauled Repentance Park and other elements, is part of the “central green” concept the DDD has been trying to encourage over the past few years to move away from the typical urban palette of concrete and asphalt.

Lafayette and Florida streets have cracked sidewalks, “headless” meter poles and some dead and diseased trees. DDD Executive Director David Rhorer said better trees, designed plantings and proper sidewalks that satisfy the Americans with Disabilities Act are key priorities.

He said art-covered screens to block out surface parking lots are a possibility, too. Modern urban design frowns on blank sections of the street, contending people don’t like or feel safe walking past open areas in urban environments.

The work is being funded by state sales tax rebates approved last year by the Metro Council, with $200,000 going to Lafayette Street and $100,000 to Florida Street. Rhorer said he’d like the work on Florida to go all the way to Interstate 110, but that will depend on the funds and the scope of the project. Some blocks, he said, will not need as much work as others.

The DDD is accepting résumés from design firms. Rhorer expects the work to be done by the end of next year.

The improvements to Lafayette and Florida streets are separate from a federal grant-funded $1.1 million first phase of a gateway to a Mississippi River bike trail on River Road at Florida Street. That project will create a bike trail head and gateway to connect the levee at Florida Street to the town square via a walkway along the west side of a tree-lined River Road.

It will also include landscaping, brick inlays at the intersection’s crosswalks, improvements to the crossing over the railroad tracks and up to the 6-mile bike trail and a monument sign that says “Mississippi River.” An as-yet unfunded second phase will include an overlook area on the levee where people can sit at tables and enjoy a view of the river.

In other business:

SATSUMA TREES: Baton Rouge Green will begin a program in which it will plant 15-20 satsuma orange trees in three downtown locations on property owned by Lamar Advertising Co. The trees will be planted in the next month and the fruit will be free for the public.

GREENWAY: The DDD will host three public meetings about the planned greenway, a $3 million trail system that will connect City Park with Memorial Stadium running under I-110. The meetings are tentatively set for March 5, 6 and 7. More information will be available from the DDD in the coming days.

GROCERY STUDY: The DDD will commission a consulting firm to do market study to gauge demand for a grocery store downtown, a move that comes on the heels of a public survey the DDD took itself. The study, which will be used to attract a grocery store to the central business district, should be done by April.