On a recent trip to my home state of Louisiana, I enjoyed an extended visit in Baton Rouge -- a city that has seen beaucoup changes since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.
Baton Rouge didn’t get the brunt of the storm, but it got the brunt of the aftermath, as thousands of evacuees descended upon the mid-sized city. Many stayed after the storm subsided, and the resultant expanded population has challenged the capital city’s infrastructure and services.
Baton Rouge’s retail scene was a hub of activity after the storm, but like most municipalities, the recession has stepped in and slowed the tumult. What I saw a couple of weeks ago was a retail climate that is experiencing its ups and downs during the downturn. Here are some of my impressions:
Perkins Rowe, a massive Main Street mixed-use destination located just off Perkins Road didn’t exactly appear to be flourishing (see picture above). Don’t get me wrong -- it’s a beautiful project and stores are certainly open and operating. What I didn’t see, though, was traffic. We drove through the development on a Saturday, when you’d expect shoppers to be walking the pedestrian-friendly streetscape and entering the attractive storefronts. But it was a ghost town. My “guide,” a friend and Baton Rouge resident, suggested the metered parking was having an effect.
Turns out the convenient parking in front of the stores comes with a price … you get to pay to park. My friend said he knows plenty of people who rebuff the center just because of the parking situation.
On the other hand, the Towne Center at Cedar Lodge (see picture below) was bustling on a sunny Saturday. The mixed-use project located on Corporate Boulevard. in central Baton Rouge was teeming with cars and pedestrians. Developed by locally based Creekstone Cos., Towne Center features great restaurants (think Fleming’s Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s and Bonefish Grill) and popular tenants such as Whole Foods Market, Banana Republic, Chico’s, Coldwater Creek and Gap.
Do we really know what makes one project work and another, at least from appearances, not work? Location is always a major factor, but I didn’t see much difference in the sites. Tenants matter, but both projects had attractive retailers and popular eateries. (In fact, Perkins Rowe might have the edge, with the state’s first Orvis and Z Gallerie, as well as Barnes & Noble and Anthropologie.)
Then there’s the X factor. In this case, could it actually be that charging for upfront parking is sending a message to Perkins Rowe patrons that convenience comes with a cost?
In this day and age, convenience should be a standard, not a premium.
-- Katherine Field