Financing in place for Commerce Building

Financing for the redevelopment of the Commerce Building in downtown Baton Rouge is in place and work on the mixed-use development should begin by the middle of the year.

Michael Lang, the project’s development manager and partner in the team led by New Orleans developer T.J. Iarocci, told the Downtown Development District board Tuesday that a commitment for construction funding is in place through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 221 (d) (4) program, which insures mortgage loans.

Lang said the program has been used for a couple of projects in Baton Rouge in recent years, most recently The High Grove mixed-use development by the Mall of Louisiana. But this is the first time the funding has been used on a downtown development, he said.

“They’re extremely selective with the project that they fund,” Lang said. “It really speaks to the momentum that downtown Baton Rouge has with all these huge projects.”

Once paperwork for the financing is completed, demolition of the interior of the Commerce Building should begin by the middle of the year, Lang said. Work is expected to take 12 to 14 months.

Plans are to have 93 apartments in the building, ranging from studio units to three-bedroom models. Most of the units will be one- and two-bedroom, Lang said. There also will be a rooftop restaurant, a fitness center, a third-floor private events deck and a rooftop infinity edge pool. There will be about 110 parking spaces inside the building.

The renovation of the building is expected to cost about $20 million.

In other business:

ADDITONAL PARKING: Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, discussed plans to add about 540 free parking spaces under Interstate 10 and Interstate 110.

Rhorer said the extra parking spaces are needed because of all the construction and new jobs going on downtown. “It’s a good time to be proactive,” he said.

To add parking spaces, the areas under the interstates need to be striped, lighting has to be installed and wayfinding signs must be put up. While Rhorer said the cost of striping parking spaces and putting up signs will be nominal, he is planning to meet with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development about getting money for lighting.

“Whatever the lighting cost is, it’s got to be a lot cheaper than building a garage,” he said.

CATS buses could be used to pick up people who park under the interstate and transport them to events at the River Center or at other spots downtown, Rhorer said.

Rhorer said he would like to get the parking spaces added by the summer.

HOUSE ON THE HILL: The commission endorsed plans for House on the Hill, an infill development in Beauregard Town. Suzanne Turner, professor emeritus of the LSU School of Landscape Architecture, said the project will add 13 buildings to a 1.5-acre area bordered by Louisiana Avenue and Napoleon, St. Joseph and America streets. The buildings will fit in with the five existing homes.

Turner said the development will be an example of how new homes can go into a historic neighborhood and be sensitive to the context.

“We hope that these buildings will represent the best of contemporary sustainable design,” Turner said.

The development will include community gardens, a center for group meals and meetings, and a community kitchen. There will be seven two- to three-bedroom Emerson homes for sale and five single-bedroom Thoreau studio units.

House on the Hill is set to go before the city-parish Planning Commission on Monday.

“This type of inflll development is such a model for people to study,” Rhorer said. “You have a lot of blocks like this, where you have one or two houses.”

FRESHJUNKIE: FreshJunkie is set to open its second downtown location in about two weeks, on North Boulevard across from Town Square. Owner Pat Fellows has said the new location will have the same menu of salads and wraps as the Main Street Market FreshJunkie, but will be twice as large. Fellows also will sponsor events in Town Square that are in line with his vision for a healthy lifestyle, such as yoga classes.

CORDON ROUGE: Kerry and Sheila Denny discussed plans for their renovation of 334 Third St. The Dennys will live on the second floor of the building and the first floor will be occupied by a French bistro, Cordon Rouge. Cordon Rouge had been located on Arnold Lane, inside The Courtyard Gifts & Interior. No opening date for the restaurant has been announced.