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Old Posted Dec 21, 2005, 2:04 AM
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Developers reveal more on plans for Historic Kress building

By CHAD CALDER
ccalder@theadvocate.com
Advocate business writer

The duo that bought the historic Kress/Welsh & Levy buildings provided some more details Tuesday on their plans to redevelop the downtown property. Standing in front of the building at Third and Main Streets, Brace Godfrey Jr., Claude “Buddy” Leach and a handful of other local officials talked about the impact of residential development in the central business district, plans for adding an eight-story tower and bringing Southern University students downtown.

The plan to convert the historic, former five-and-dime store into a residential and office development with some retail space was first announced in September, after Godfrey announced he had a purchase agreement on the property.

Godfrey and Leach expect to break ground on the roughly $15 million project by next summer and finish about two years from now, bringing between 40 and 50 residential units downtown.

Godfrey said that while the goal is to cater to young professionals, he has gotten calls from many older, longtime Baton Rougeans who want to move back to the river.

As for first-floor, retail development, Godfrey said he and Leach will look for tenants providing goods and services that are not yet available downtown. While he wouldn’t go into specifics, he said downtown is still lacking a few necessary components of urban life.

Architect Norman Chenevert said Tuesday that his team will consider adding a tower to the building’s existing 60,000 square feet.

Godfrey said that while preservation requirements do not allow the tower to mimic the existing exterior, it would be designed in a way that was complementary to it.

The project will take advantage of newly expanded state historic tax credits and all work will meet the necessary guidelines set by preservationists.

Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, compared the project’s residential component to Kress’ arrival at the turn of the century. Then, downtown Baton Rouge needed a five-and-dime store to begin its development. Today, downtown needs additional residential capacity to seal it’s redevelopment.

“Obviously, the residential component, if it can be worked out, will be a tremendous opportunity” to help re-populate downtown, Rhorer said.

Leach and Godfrey also have plans to honor the building’s civil rights legacy. Several Southern University students were arrested after they sat down at the lunch counter to protest segregation in the 1960s. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Godfrey said it has not yet been decided whether the element commemorating the lunch counter sit-in will be functional or something more like a memorial, behind glass.

Leach hailed the Southern students for taking a stand to their own personal detriment and said Baton Rouge needs to honor its civil rights leaders. He said he’d like to see the property developed in such a way that it attracts Southern University students downtown in their free time. Godfrey said he and Leach are looking at a number of other downtown properties, though he would not provide specifics.
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