Groundbreaking signals progress along the Nicholson corridor

    The redevelopment of Nicholson Drive officially got underway earlier this month, when officials from LSU, the state and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation broke ground on the first of several buildings that will be constructed on the Water Campus. Several other high-profile projects along the corridor that have been in the works for years, remain on hold, despite assurances from their developers that construction will start soon.

    Take the River House. The planned mixed-use development on the site of the former Prince Murat Hotel was supposed to get underway early this year. But with February coming nearing its close, developer Marc Blumberg  predicts it will be April before he breaks ground.

    Blumberg and partner Emmanuel Organek have been working on the 10-acre project—which will include 224 market-rate apartment units with a 34,000-square-foot office building and 15,000 square feet of retail space—since 2008. The project was delayed, first, because of the recession then because of bureaucratic tie-ups with the federal loan program the partners were using. Late last year, they switched gears and secured conventional financing for the project.

    Now, they’re reworking original budget projections, since construction costs have increased over the past few years. Blumberg says the project is still on track but that he is trying to “iron out some issues with the construction agreement and pricing.” He says he is confident construction will begin sometime this spring.

    Meanwhile, developers remain tight-lipped about progress on the River District—Lafayette developer Dalis Waguespack’s proposed 40-acre, mixed-use project on Nicholson Drive near Magnolia Mound plantation. In January 2014, architects unveiled a concept plan for the first phase of the project, which then was approved by the Planning Commission. Nearly 14 months later, work has yet to begin.

    The River District has been in the works since the mid-2000s and was also delayed by the recession. Architect Steve Oubre says the project remains on track and that an update is expected soon but he could not provide details.

    Oubre and Blumberg say they are heartened the Water Campus, a 33-acre research park devoted to coastal and deltaic studies, has broken ground. Real estate experts familiar with the area say the campus could be the catalyst to help get the other mixed-use projects done—or started—though they’re not willing to hazard a guess as to when that might be.

    —Stephanie Riegel

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