Transforming Baton Rouge’s Downtown into a Cultural Destination: A Q&A with Davis Rhorer
This post is by Camille Manning-Broome, CEO of CPEX
Downtown Baton Rouge has witnessed substantial economic and cultural growth over the past two decades. A slew of initiatives — including phase I of Plan Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge 2000 and phase II of Plan Baton Rouge — have helped develop the riverfront and stabilize local business and residential areas.
Davis Rhorer, executive director of the city’s Downtown Development District, has been instrumental in designing and carrying out these initiatives. He says the stakes are high when it comes to revitalizing downtown Baton Rouge. “Downtown is the soul of a city. People come from all over to participate in downtown life and culture, which reflects the community as a whole,” he said. “It’s such an important role we play for our state.”
We chatted with Rhorer about what makes downtown Baton Rouge special and why continued development is crucial to the city’s future.
Can you give us some background on how downtown Baton Rouge has changed in the past 20 years? Why develop downtown?
Revitalization projects downtown began in ’98. At the time, local developments were nonexistent; it was a dead block. Developers were much more focused on the areas between Interstates 10 and 12, leaving a gap in the inner city.
But we recognized that downtown is special and worth fighting for. You can’t replicate downtown’s position on the Mississippi River. That offered us an amazing opportunity to create a city center that is truly unique to Baton Rouge. Our decision to build Raising Cane’s River Center was not only an effort to develop downtown but also an invitation for others to experience our beautiful district.
How do these changes affect individuals who work, live or play in downtown Baton Rouge?
It was really important to maintain a residential base downtown. Restoration Renaissance highlighted many of the properties in the inner city, leading to community stabilization. Lately, we’ve focused on making downtown more livable for residents with the addition of a grocery store and pharmacy.
We also recognize how important it is to integrate natural features into downtown’s facade. Beautification efforts have brought about more green spaces along the riverfront that pull everything together. It’s an attractive environment for both locals and guests.
What does this mean for downtown Baton Rouge’s future? What direction do you see the city taking?
Downtown is becoming more accessible for pedestrians and bikers, including connections along Government Street and Mid City. You’ll notice we’ve eliminated curbs at the intersections to make room for community gathering places. Downtown will be able to host more events, such as seasonal Live after Five and Sunday in the Park, or annual events like the Oyster Fest. The town square alone has more than 250 events annually.
These developments have allowed for a burgeoning art center downtown as well. The Shaw Center and other culture-led initiatives make art accessible in community life and provide a draw to out-of-towners. And there are still opportunities for growth. There are a couple of vacant lots along the riverfront, so it’ll be exciting to watch the district continue to grow.
But when people get downtown, we want them to be able to slow down and enjoy it. To take their time. Take in the cultural sites and activities. Enjoy our restaurants, art galleries and green spaces.
Downtown is now a destination for our city, for our state and for our many visitors who visit our capital.