LSU plans new housing, parking, shops
In five to six years, a trip down Nicholson Drive through the LSU campus could appear a bit different. Imagine a roundabout at the Burbank Drive intersection. And picture new student housing to replace the aging married student housing complex. Add to this a mixture of retail, garage parking and outdoor plazas.
These are some of the parts of a vision for a redeveloped Nicholson Drive corridor. The master plan project for the area — discussed during a public forum Tuesday evening at LSU — is being led by the university with the idea that public-private partnerships could be established for the actual build-out.
LSU officials say the build-out will not require university funds that are not already budgeted, but they will work with the private sector to build in retail, office and parking structures to meet the area’s market needs.
In its most basic goal, the project wants to give Nicholson Drive a sense of place to make it feel less like a thruway and more like the character of the rest of the university. Also high on the radar is improving pedestrian safety, housing, retail and, of course, no one wants to forget about the game day experience.
“When you come down Nicholson Drive, we want you to say, ‘Well, that’s LSU,’ ” said Steve Waller, director of residential life at LSU and leader of the redevelopment project.
Perhaps the most perplexing question to arise Tuesday was what to do about Nicholson Drive.
Architects, landscape architects and transportation experts with AECOM, the Chicago planning firm leading the master plan process, considered several options all generally along the lines of “leave it alone, shrink it, or move it,” said Paul Moore, a transportation engineer with AECOM.
AECOM representatives offered several ideas, most of them combinations of adding wide multi-use paths, widening the median to possibly accommodate a streetcar and narrowing the travel lanes.
But why, wondered Bruce Sharky, a professor of landscape architecture at LSU, did the designers not move Nicholson to the west, a move that would decrease the heavy truck and car traffic going through campus. Sharky went on to deride the proposed plan as unambitious.
“I guess I’m a little bit disappointed,” Sharky said. “The three alternatives — to you they’re alternatives — but they’re really just variations on a theme. There’s no real alternative. And it makes it hard to evaluate. … They look the same. I know they’re different. But which one’s the best one? I don’t know.”
Moving Nicholson would be too costly, take up too much additional space, and would eliminate visibility and access to new retail planned for the area, said Steven Wilson, a senior associate with AECOM.
The forum was an early start at evaluating some of the master plan’s key concepts, and it will go through other public meetings. So at this point, it’s still difficult to say how rapidly the new Nicholson Drive corridor will develop, or how much it will cost, officials say.
“We’re looking at the numbers,” Waller said when asked how the university planned to replace all of the roughly 400 units of housing already in the area.
“It’s hard to say it will be a one-to-one at this point,” he said. “But it will supply what we feel is the market demand. We’re still playing with those numbers.”
“It’s going to be phased, and we’ll develop a phasing strategy a little further into the project,” Waller added.