By Matthew Nerger
It’s easy to think of Baton Rouge’s Mississippi riverfront as nothing but casinos and petrochemical plants, but if you head downtown you’ll already see something different. Whether it’s the Louisiana Art and Science Museum, the Mississippi River levee, or the Riverfront Plaza, the downtown riverfront has a lot to offer, and thanks to the work of a number of development groups, the riverfront is only getting better.
“Downtown should be the living room of the community,” says Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, which has organized many of the recent improvements to the downtown riverfront. For this reason, the DDD has spearheaded many community-based developments along the river such as Repentance Park, the Levee Bike Path, and the Downtown Greenway.
Rhorer cites the number of downtown residents without traditional yards as a major reason for increasing the amount of publicly accessible green space along the downtown riverfront. The expansion of green space will give residents easy access to more recreational activities without having to go to far from home.
Included in these recreational expansions is the Florida Street Riverfront Access Point, which recently won an International Downtown Association Award for public places. The $1.2 million dollar project, which completed late last year, converted River Road from a four-lane industrial road into a multi-use green space with bike ramps, newly planted trees, and benches and tables overlooking the river while keeping three lanes of road for those who need to drive along the riverfront—something Rhorer calls a “complete street.”
Much of the focus of these improvements is on building space for community events, which Rhorer counts as a success. Only three blocks away from the riverfront, the North Boulevard Town Square hosts many major downtown events such as Live After Five and Sundays in the Park.
Plans are also underway to make improvements to the Riverfront Plaza near the Louisiana Art and Science Museum, revamping the many aspects of the already existing greenway to connect it to Repentance Park and the rest of the Downtown Greenway.
The DDD is concerned with the economic development of the riverfront as well, working to attract business to the area. Adding itself to the list of hotels and restaurants open along the riverfront, 1010 Nic, a former warehouse converted into an upscale, local retail space, opened its doors on Thursday, October 8th, and plans are underway to expand the Mississippi River dock to allow more cruise ships to stop along the riverfront.
That’s not to neglect the Water Campus, a 35-acre, multi-tenant water research station in the process of being built where the old municipal docks were, just south of the I-10 bridge. The campus will house many existing water research originations, including the Coastal Restoration and Protection Agency, the Water Institute of the Gulf, and the LSU Center for River Studies. These organizations and many more will use the campus to work together and separately to research solutions to the many water issues Louisiana faces, from the shrinking of coastal wetlands to the environmental quality of surviving ecosystems.
“We saw a great void,” says Tina Rance, director of marketing at the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, one of the groups responsible for the development of the campus. “We needed to do something long term to help the generations after us deal with these problems.”
The Water Campus will have residential and retail spaces as well. Rance says the campus will not only be a collaborative space for water research, but will also an important segment of the Baton Rouge downtown area. A proposed streetcar from LSU to downtown will also pass through the campus, further connecting the city’s riverfront.
As the Baton Rouge riverfront continues to grow, it will only become a more vibrant and important part of the community.