Government Street revamp taking shape

Several projects underway with aim to revitalize busy midcity corridor

Work has started or is getting ready to begin on several development projects that will transform Government Street.

Construction is underway on a model block of local businesses near Baton Rouge Magnet High. In the next few months, a nonprofit tied to Catholic High will look for partners to help with the redevelopment of Westmoreland Shopping Center. By September, the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority plans to select an outside firm to help with the redevelopment of a 100-acre area surrounding the old Entergy site at 1509 Government St. And public meetings to improve the Government Street traffic flow and make it more bike friendly should be held in the next 90 days.

In anticipation of all the activity, a number of businesses are relocating to Government Street, including Anthony’s Italian Deli, a Florida Boulevard restaurant that has become beloved for its muffulettas and spaghetti and meatballs, and Giraphic Prints, a graphic design and T-shirt business.

Danny McGlynn, one of the pioneers of redevelopment of the midcity thoroughfare with business partner Dennis Hargroder, said he would like to see Government Street become more like Magazine Street in New Orleans or Westheimer Road in Houston — an area with unique local retailers and restaurants with an active sidewalk culture.

“This area is near and dear to me, and I have great hopes for it,” he said. “It should be really cool.”

McGlynn and Hargroder opened Circa 1857 in 2002 at the intersection of Government and North 19th streets. It has grown to be one of the first redevelopment outposts in midcity, with a block-sized mix of art, antique and gift shops.

While McGlynn was involved in some downtown redevelopment projects, like turning the old Varsity Shop building at 340 Florida St. into the home for his law office and the Lobby Café, he’s shifted his attention to Government Street.

“Downtown has outgrown me,” he said. “It’s more fun, easy. Downtown is big money, big developments.”

McGlynn and Hargroder’s current project is the $1.6 million redevelopment of the Model Block between Ogden and Bedford drives. Like the name suggests, McGlynn wants the block to be an example for future development along Government Street, with landscaping, parking behind businesses and aesthetically pleasing signage.

“We’re trying to build what everybody wants to see built on Government Street,” he said.

The plan is for the Model Block to be a “healthy, hip little development,” McGlynn said. The Purusa yoga studio is set to open later this year in the Denicola’s Furniture space. Denicola’s is moving into the old St. Vincent de Paul warehouse on Nicholson Drive, between downtown and LSU. Modern Meals, which will sell healthy, preservative-free packaged dishes, will open in the old MidCity Bike Shop space. The Atomic Pop Shop, which sells new albums, vintage vinyl records and art, will remain open.

The block will be bookended by the Darensbourg building and a new space that had been home to a tax preparation service. Ritter Maher Architects will take up the second floor of the Darensbourg building.

Stephen Maher said he’s heard from four different restaurants about opening in the tax building space.

“We must get three calls a week, specifically about that building,” he said. “But we want to get the right tenant there that has a need to be next to two major high schools.”

Near the Model Block is the Westmoreland Shopping Center, which midcity officials have wanted to see redeveloped for nearly a decade. About four years ago, a nonprofit associated with Catholic High bought the 30,000-square-foot shopping center.

For the past few years, the school has used the center as a parking lot and as space for some athletic practices. But now that Coleman Partners Architects has completed a master plan for the entire Catholic High campus, including Westmoreland, it’s time to go forward, said school President Gene Tullier.

Tullier said the plan this fall is to issue a request for proposals from developers who want to partner with Catholic High and redevelop the shopping center. Although it’s too early to say, the center likely will be turned into a mixed-use development with retail and residential space.

“We would like to see some residential component, but we’ve got to see numbers and data that support it,” he said.

Another strong possibility for the redeveloped Westmoreland is a restaurant. Tullier said he was hoping Piccadilly Cafeteria would be a part of the new development, but the Westmoreland location was shut down two weeks ago.

“We need a food amenity in that location,” he said. “It’s sort of a really viable attribute for the community. We think a café or a small restaurant would work there.”

The goal is to have a more concrete plan for Westmoreland’s redevelopment before another year goes by, Tullier said.

“We’re ready to move, and we would like to see something happen,” he said. “We’ve gotten some traction now in the midcity area.”

One of the things causing traction is the redevelopment of the Entergy site. Officials with the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority are accepting proposals from firms to help develop a road map for the future use of the site. The goal is to select a company to develop the plan at next month’s RDA meeting.

Susannah Bing, the RDA’s director of finance and economic development, said the plan will have “some teeth behind it” so it can guide future use of the area around Entergy.

This predevelopment planning could be a road map for potential redevelopments across all of Baton Rouge, Bing said.

One infrastructure project that could lead to more development along Government Street is the “road diet” engineers have. The plan is to turn the four-lane, undivided roadway into a two-lane road, with a middle turning lane and a bike lane. By doing away with the inside lanes, traffic is expected to flow more smoothly because there won’t be so many vehicles making left turns, causing the inside lanes to back up.

Work on the section between Interstate 110 and Lobdell Avenue is expected to cost between $5 million and $8 million, said Mike Bruce, a principal with Stantec, who advises the city-parish on transportation issues. The project is being paid for with money from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, which is turning over responsibility of Government Street to the city-parish.

Bruce said the goal is to have public meetings in the next three months to determine how Government Street will be configured. The objective is to have the 11 miles of road reworked by the end of 2015.

“This is something we looked at before Hurricane Katrina as a way to make Government Street more accessible, pedestrian friendly, bike friendly and more attractive in general,” Bruce said.

Calming traffic down will have a big impact on the success of Government Street, Maher said.

Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter @TCB_TheAdvocate.