The River Center feasibility study, U.S.S. Kidd maintenance, a new Mid City festival and a soon-to-be-unveiled downtown walking trail were among the more than dozen underway developments discussed at today’s packed Downtown Development District meeting.
As the city-parish prepares to issue a request for proposals for a firm to study ways to improve the performance of the Raising Cane’s River Center, DDD Executive Director Davis Rhorer told meeting attendees he believes the study should answer a handful of key questions. Among them: 1) What additional infrastructure (suites, more seating) is needed to make the arena a top-tier facility? 2) What other streetscape improvements can be done to enhance visitors’ experience walking from the hotels to the River Center? 3) How can wayfinding be implemented so that visitors can easily see their parking options?
“It’s unacceptable for us, as Louisiana’s capital city, to be fourth-tier,” Rhorer says. “We’re missing out on the ripple effect of economic activity from the concerts we’ve been unable to obtain.”
Much of that comes down to seating, according to Les Crooks, the venue’s interim general manager, who is leaving his post Thursday as a permanent replacement steps in. Whereas the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans has some 17,500 seats and the Cajundome in Lafayette has just under 12,000, an in-stage concert at the River Center has seating capacity for only 8,500.
“Artists are business people and they want to go where they can make the most money, so how much they can charge for tickets and how many seats they can fill,” Crooks said. “For us, tickets are going to be more expensive, and we’re going to have to sell out to make any money.”
Further down the road, Rhorer says the River Center advisory committee should assess whether downtown Baton Rouge has the right mix of meeting rooms and assembly areas, and should also consider building a “headquarter hotel” on the River Center campus.
Also discussed Tuesday morning was the planned drydocking of the U.S.S. Kidd, which officials expect to begin in another three to five years, once fundraising is secured. The plan includes taking the 77-year-old ship to drydock for an estimated three-and-a-half weeks of repairs that cannot be made in its current mooring configuration.
The U.S.S. Kidd usually drydocks itself because of the unique way its cradle is built. But changing river conditions have created a situation where the ship is in the water more than it is high and dry, necessitating repairs.
Among other major items discussed at the meeting:
• Electric Depot and The Market at Circa 1857 are partnering to bring a new festival to Mid City, April 1-4, called “Electric Depot Festival,” which will include four days of live music and events like a “food truck roundup,” “ChamParty” and a “Sip and Shop” day at the space recently purchased by Mimosa Handcrafted and Wanderlust by Abby.
• Urban Canvas Studio owner Taylor Jacobsen is bringing a “Heart Trail Walking Tour” downtown the weekend of Feb. 14-15, after he created a defined 5K, hourlong trail that begins and ends at the riverfront sculpture, which is marked by over 700 pieces of unique art installations and focuses on improving cardio health.
• Several BREC projects are either in the design phase or already underway, including the Memorial Stadium Park Project and the Expressway Park Concept Master Plan.
• Some local scientists and entrepreneurs are treating the “ball moss” that hangs downtown.