River District seen as Nicholson Drive spark

The River District, a 34.8-acre mixed-use development proposed on Nicholson Drive between downtown and LSU, should spark growth in the area, those attending a public unveiling of the project said Monday.

Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, who represents the River District area, said the development will be a catalyst for growth in Old South Baton Rouge.

“This has been long awaited,” she said.

Blaine Grimes, who handles community affairs for Campus Federal Credit Union, said he was impressed with the plans for the River District.

“This is beyond taking it to the next level,” said Grimes, as he looked at renderings of the projects that were on display at an open house at the Dr. Leo S. Butler Community Center.

Grimes said he was pleased with the unique look of the River District and how it will tie into the proposed Water Campus nearby.

The River District is expected to contain 1,800 residential units, a hotel and 100,000 square feet of commercial space that could possibly include a neighborhood grocery store.

Residential units in River District will range from 800-square-foot apartments to townhomes that will be 2,800 to 3,200 square feet. There will be condominiums that face the Mississippi River and “colonial condos” that face Magnolia Mound Plantation, said Steve Oubre, of Architects Southwest in Lafayette. A public plaza, flanked by 220 hotel rooms will also face Magnolia Mound.

Another 100,000 square feet in the development are set aside for office space.

Michael Moreno, a Lafayette businessman, has been working on developing River District for several years now, after acquiring the 45 acres of land along Nicholson Drive. But the project was slowed because of the national recession, which reduced the demand for housing and new retail space, making financing developments difficult.

Recent development activity downtown and along Nicholson, such as IBM’s service center and the $45 million Water Campus, has led to increased interest in the River District.

Dalis Waguespack, managing partner for the River District, said the timing has worked out for the development. “It’s fantastic to see this,” she said.

Concept and development drawings will be submitted to the Office of the Planning Commission by Feb. 6 and the item will be heard by the commission at its March 24 meeting.

If all goes well, construction of the first segments of the River District would begin before the end of 2014.

Waguespack said construction would start on a mix of elements, including housing and the commercial space. The buildout for River District is estimated to take five to seven years.