Young business owners fueling downtown expansion

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The hip, new vibe that is trending in downtown Baton Rouge is from the bars, hotels, restaurants, businesses and homes under construction.

Developers report the changing facade is because of some unlikely entrepreneurs, young business owners.

You may have noticed the dumpsters popping up in downtown Baton Rouge like weeds after a summer rain. They are teeming with trash and blocking businesses. But to some, they are hardly eyesores.

"That's a big sign that there's a lot of stuff doing on and a lot of activity and that's a good thing," business owner Andy Blouin said.

Blouin knows firsthand. He is part owner of Boudreaux and Thibodeaux's, owns the building that houses City Bar, and Blend.

He is also the vision behind a brand new catering facility that is under construction on Third Street.

"Here you can see a second line going down Third Street, a party, and what we'll do is private wine in this front area," Blouin said.

It's a 5,500 square foot dream for the young entrepreneur. But he admits bringing business to life downtown comes with some unique challenges.

"...At 5 p.m. when the bell rings, a lot of people head out of downtown. You have to make it a point to come back down here," Blouin said.

Blouin said that can be especially tough during the first half of the week. But a remedy is well underway.

"Every planner I've talked to across the country has told me if you can pull off a pharmacy and grocery store that is a huge deal," Executive Director for Downtown Development District Davis Rhorer said.

Once Matherne's Grocery is complete in the fall, downtown Baton Rouge will have both.

Rhorer said it is all part of the city's master plan.

"In 2001, we had zero hotel rooms downtown. We are now approaching over the 1,000 hotel room mark and I think that's significant," Rhorer said.

He believes if you build it they will come. Downtown is his field of dreams and, so far, he said they are coming true for the city and many business owners who have invested.

"I have some 36 young entrepreneurs who are really shaping the future of downtown Baton Rouge with all sorts of development," Rhorer said.

Blouin and his business partners are convinced.

"The right people are coming downtown, making the right investments, and I think the growth is going to be there," Blouin said.

The dumpsters are just part of the journey.

The DDD reports, so far this year, 33 new businesses have invested in downtown.

Eleven buildings are currently under construction on Third Street.

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