While Florida Boulevard faces considerable challenges, including vacant and blighted properties, below-market lease rates, unfavorable demographics, and outdated zoning codes that stymie smart growth and encourage sprawl, not everyone is pessimistic about the 20-mile thoroughfare.
Several real estate brokers see potential where others see mostly used tire stores, and believe there are plenty of opportunities along Florida Boulevard for investors and tenants alike—even without a major land use plan for redevelopment.
Among them is Andy McCall, a principal of Momentum Commercial Real Estate, who recently acquired one of Florida Boulevard’s biggest eyesores—the former Borden’s Dairy headquarters building just west of the Foster Drive intersection.
McCall’s family has owned much of the property behind the iconic structure for decades, including the processing plant where Borden’s made milk and ice cream for the Baton Rouge market until 2006, when it shifted those operations to Lafayette.
But Borden’s continued to own a two-acre tract, including its abandoned headquarters building fronting Florida Boulevard, until February, when McCall acquired it for $417,000. Altogether, he and his family now own a seven-acre industrial site smack in the middle of Baton Rouge.
McCall acknowledges the blighted building, which was ignored by Borden’s for years and is marred with graffiti, is one of the problems on Florida and he has already started cleaning it up. The production facility in the rear also needs considerable work. But he thinks the entire site could be a good fit for an industrial user in need of a large tract in a central location.
“There’s plenty of space,” he says. “From Florida you can only see the white building but there’s a lot of infrastructure in the back, pieces of the old production facility that could have value. It needs significant renovation and partial demolition at a minimum. But we’ve already had people talking to us.”
Beyond the Borden’s site, McCall and others point to several other positive aspects of Florida Boulevard. Among them:
• The majority of the property fronting Florida from the river to Airline Highway is zoned commercial, which allows for a lot of flexibility.
• There’s a large pocket zoned M1, or light industrial, near the intersection of Foster Drive. It’s one of the larger industrially zoned areas to be so centrally and conveniently located.
• There are plenty of good bargains, given the lower land cost, central location and accessibility.
• It’s near Government Street, which has enjoyed a considerable renaissance of late and has seen property values skyrocket.
Justin Langlois, a commercial broker with Stirling Properties, also describes himself as a fan of Florida. The key, he says, is to find the right users. “There is functional obsolesence everywhere,” he says. “But there are well-built buildings on Florida and you’ve seen some redevelopment. I think you’ll see more.”
Langlois points to the success, in particular, of the Broadmoor Shopping Center, which was redeveloped several years ago and is now home to a Hi Nabor Supermarket and a Planet Fitness. Earlier this spring, three outparcels of the development sold—one to McDonald’s, which is relocating an older restaurant on Florida Boulevard to a new one at the new location, a Discount Tire outlet, and an urgent care clinic.
“If I had five more outparcels I could sell them all,” says Langlois, who attributes the relative health of the Broadmoor Shopping Center to a renewed interest in the nearby Broadmoor subdivision.
Broker Jim Allen with Saurage Rotenberg hasn’t had as much luck. For more than three years, he’s been trying to sell the vacant eight-story office building on Florida between Sharp and Sherwood Forest that was formerly the headquarters building of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.
The mid-century modern mid-rise has more going for it than it might appear at first glance: It was designed by renowned architect A. Hays Town, is eligible for historic building tax credits, and features amenities like slate floors and an eighth-floor, walnut-paneled board room. Asking price for the 102,000-square-foot building has been reduced again, and is currently $2.2 million or just $21 per square foot.
“It’s going to take someone who really understands what to do with it,” Allen says. “But it’s a neat building. If it were downtown, it would be worth about $10 million.”
Allen doesn’t have any answers for what it will take to bring Florida back. But Langlois believes it’s more than just discount stores and fast food outlets.
“There’s a tremendous undersupply of affordable housing and senior housing,” he says. “There are opportunities there. But someone is going to have to dip their toe in first.”