Suburban Baton Rouge office-to-apartment conversions not likely

Mike Wampold is redeveloping the former Chase South Tower into a mixed-use property. (File photo)

While the trend of converting offices to apartments is spreading outside of downtown business districts in other markets, that isn’t happening in Baton Rouge.

Wesley Moore, a commercial real estate appraiser, market analyst, broker and consultant, says the projects he knows about in Baton Rouge and throughout Louisiana are downtown, such as 440 on Third and Mike Wampold’s redevelopment of the former Chase Towers. 

Could Baton Rouge office properties outside of downtown be next? Jonathan Walker, senior commercial sales and leasing executive with Maestri-Murrell, doesn’t think so. 

To make such projects worthwhile, the building would have to be almost empty of tenants and in a location where people would want to live. While the local office market is soft compared to apartments, office occupancy still tends to be close to 80% or higher, Walker says. 

Unlike, say, Houston, Baton Rouge doesn’t usually see much speculative office construction, so there isn’t a ton of empty space when the market takes a downturn. Such conversions also would have to contend with zoning issues, he adds. 

According to Yardi Matrix, a real estate data firm, 151 office buildings, hotels or other commercial properties were converted to apartments in the U.S. in 2021, the Wall Street Journal reports

Until recently, developers mostly looked to convert early to mid-20th century office towers located in downtown districts, properties that tend to have relatively compact dimensions that make them ideal for apartments, the WSJ says, while spotlighting a suburban office conversion that could be part of the next wave.