FEATURE ARTICLE, MAY 2004
Perking Up Retail In Baton Rouge
With the first building topped off, local developer JTS
Interests is less than 2 years away from unveiling Perkins
Rowe, the most exciting, one-of-a-kind mixed-use project ever
to hit Louisianas state capital.
Cruising toward Interstate 10 on Bluebonnet Boulevard, one of
the key retail corridors in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, you see
strip center after strip center, the landscape dotted with gas
stations, grocery stores and apartments, nothing out of the
ordinary for the suburbs. But what comes next the major
intersection of Bluebonnet and Perkins Road commands
your attention. Should you glance left, youll see CCs
Coffeehouse, a popular hangout for Louisiana State University
students. But, to your right, rising six stories out of the
ground, is the sturdy backbone of a building centered on a vast
expanse of cleared land. Activity bustles, dirt moves, the hard
hats are on. Its in the air: something special is being
The heart of Perkins Rowe, located
in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, will be centered around
the movie theater and town square.
Its about time, too. Promising to provide a much needed
central live/ work/play destination for the city of Baton
Rouge when it opens in fall 2005, Perkins Rowe is the 1.7
million-square-foot brainchild of Tommy Spinosa, president
of Baton Rouge-based JTS Interests. Taking what he learned
in 1996 from integrating retail and office at CitiPlace (Baton
Rouges first mixed-use center) and expanding on it,
Spinosa enlisted a stellar team of collaborators Baltimore-based
Development Design Group; Coconut Grove, Florida-based Retail
Estate; and Denver-based Milesbrand, among others to
conceive an entire small town complete with a town square,
mid-rise condominiums, offices, movie theaters, new-to-market
restaurants, both lifestyle and necessity retail, health clubs,
spas, a hotel and a premier medical facility. Its everything
one could possibly want or need, all at ones fingertips
or within easy walking distance.
And to think, the entire project was born largely by accident.
In 1975, former property owner Jimmy Swaggert re-zoned his
parcel to A5, which provided higher residential density at
88 units to the acre. He planned to construct high-rise student
dormitories on the site, but the plans fell through. The special
zoning, however, remained. Years later, the city of Baton
Rouge phased out A5 and other specific zoning categories and
implemented Planned Unit Developments instead, which requires
municipal involvement in any future high-density developments.
When Spinosa bought the site, he inherited this special zoning.
Two things make this project work: this residential
zoning and the fact that it is on the best vacant retail parcel
in East Baton Rouge Parish, Spinosa says. Those
two combinations made it a killer site.
Perhaps equally important, Spinosa doesnt foresee being
one-upped by a similar project on the next street corner,
either. Thats because the site, already boxed in by
retail, is almost like an urban infill or redevelopment location.
Its not a mixed-use urban village built out in the middle
of nowhere, hoping that people will drive 2 hours out of town
to get to it. Perkins Rowe will be located right in the middle
of town, on a hard commercial corner, with the added benefit
of being only a half-mile down the street from Jim Wilson
& Associates Mall of Louisiana, a true destination
location in its own right.
The location [of Perkins Rowe] speaks for itself,
Spinosa says. The demands there; we didnt
have to create it. It would have been retail, whether I did
it or somebody else. Its a huge infill site, thats
all it is.
Clay Peterson, director of acquisitions and development with
JTS Interests, says its virtually impossible to achieve
this level of property type mix and density under any circumstances,
anywhere. This project is unique by anybodys standards
across the country, he says. We visited a lot
of similar projects and rarely do you find one that sits on
a hard commercial corner and allows you to inject so much
residential into whats already the best commercial corner
in the city.
Retail: Bringing It All Together
The development team views Perkins Rowes proximity to
The Mall of Louisiana as a plus, not a negative, in terms
of retail tenancy. For its unlikely that people will
drive to visit the mall and not also visit Perkins Rowe, and
vice versa. Tad Templeton, a partner with Retail Estate, the
exclusive retail leasing agent for Perkins Rowe, predicts
customers will come and make a day of it at both destinations.
Because [The Mall of Louisiana] is truly a regional
mall, people come from all over and its an event,
he says. The Perkins Rowe experience is now going to
be part of that.
Peterson agrees that the two centers complement each other
well, from targeting the same demographics to diversifying
customers selection of retailers. Weve got
a very good demographic here, given that Baton Rouge is a
college town and the state capital, he says. There
are some high income demographics $88,000 annual household
income in the immediate trade area and the vast majority
is college educated professionals. Were sitting right
where youd want to be.
From a retail diversity standpoint, The Mall of Louisiana
is a blessing in disguise. With radius restrictions on many
of the malls tenants preventing entry into second locations
at Perkins Rowe, this same barrier has allowed Retail Estate
to approach different retailers and restaurants, as well as
smaller local operators.
Perkins Rowe will be a small
town complete with a town square, mid-rise condominiums,
offices, movie theaters, new-to-market restaurants,
both lifestyle and necessity retail, health clubs,
spas, a hotel and a premier medical facility.
Were not going to have the same old, same old,
Templeton says. There are tremendous local and regional
retailers in Atlanta, Birmingham, Dallas, Houston and New
Orleans that we are talking to and those are the kind
of tenants that makes this place special. If you take X percentage
of a project and dedicate it to local and regional tenants,
thats really what differentiates yourself. Why replicate
whats already existing down the street?
Retail Estate has garnered letters of intent from some of
the highest quality national and local tenants, and is in
lease negotiations with many others. Three restaurants, all
new to the market, have committed to the project. A gourmet
epicurian market, also new to Baton Rouge, will help to anchor
the necessity retail portion of the project, with a national
drugstore and coffeehouse fronting Bluebonnet Boulevard. A
14-screen cinema also will help anchor the center.
Retail awnings will adorn the ground-level façades
of the $40 million, 180,000-square-foot medical facility,
which, as the first building to be erected at Perkins Rowe,
has topped off at six floors and will house a two-story neurosurgical
center and medical office space. The four main residential
structures, which will be home to 800 condominiums, loft apartments
and brownstones, also will offer street level retail.
Theres been a real learning curve from when we
first started doing these kinds of projects, says Templeton,
who has also leased similar live/work/play developments like
CocoWalk in Coconut Grove, Florida; Destin Commons in Destin,
Florida; and Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio. All three
also involved the design genius of Development Design Group.
Incorporating residential is one lesson weve learned,
Templeton continues. People really do want to live in
an environment like this. In the past, there may have been
a gesture to put a few units in and see how it worked. Now,
[residential] is a major component of this 1.7 million-square-foot
Peterson notes, however, that it is the retail that serves
as the glue to hold the other components together. As
much effort as were putting into the residential and
office components, the retail component provides the foundation
and the dynamic to make the whole concept work, he says.
No question about it. When the retails plugged
in, thats what really makes the thing take a life of
Templeton agrees. The retail portions only 400,000
square feet, yet it really becomes the signature for the whole
While the retail portion is interspersed throughout the project,
from occupying ground floors of the medical facility to wrapping
around the base of the residential buildings, everything was
designed specifically to provide continuity and a sense of
belonging to each building involved. Even though the medical
office building is modern-looking and uses a lot of glass,
Spinosa didnt want it to seem out of place or like it
was part of a suburban office park. So ground floor retail
with awnings was added to soften the buildings appearance
and attract pedestrian activity. Each separate component of
Perkins Rowe can stand on its own and survive, but the retail
makes each component that much better.
If one stylistic element stands out among the rest at Perkins
Rowe, its the beautiful wrought-iron balconies and columned
porticos found on most of the buildings. Charlestonian verandas,
elegant terraces à la New Orleans French Quarter
any charming phrase of the Old South used to describe
it, Perkins Rowe has it. Again, the design is a direct nod
to promoting pedestrian mingling, social gathering and the
simple joy of being outdoors and basking in the bayou breezes
of Baton Rouge.
Its going to have a lot of what Ill call
New Orleans flavor, Spinosa says, but
I intentionally didnt want it to be New Orleans-looking.
Its got a lot of the good side of New Orleans, though:
the balconies, the high canopies, the big columns.
The Local Connection
If everything about Perkins Rowe has a homey, inviting feel
to it, its no accident. JTS Interests got its start
developing residential when it was founded in 1978. After
building 1,200 multifamily units between 1980 and 1986 when
the Tax Act hit, JTS Interests spent the next several years,
much like other developers in Louisiana and across the country,
trying to weather the real estate depression as best it could.
From 1986 to 1990, all we were doing was licking our
wounds, Spinosa says. The economy here really
didnt turn around until about 1993.
Teaming up with GE Commercial, JTS next decided to try its
luck at office development. Between 1990 and 1994, GE
and JTS acquired a $65 million to $70 million portfolio of
office buildings, Spinosa says. So we developed
strong office experience. Over the years, wed get a
retail piece here and there, but CitiPlace [in 1996] was really
our first entry into retail, and that worked out beyond our
Not only does JTS Interests have across-the-board experience,
it knows Baton Rouge like no other developer. Talk about
understanding the market, Templeton says. Tommy
[Spinosa] is from here and is committed here. This isnt
somebody whos blowing in here from Houston or Dallas
or wherever. He has the sensitivity to do the right thing
here; you just dont see that in a lot of places.
In 20 years, Templeton says hes hard pressed to find
comparable levels of commitment and vision from a developer.
This, in turn, attracts retailers to the project. The
commitment level that Tommy has had from Day 1 gives the retailers
the confidence to know that this project is going to happen
and be incredibly successful, he says. Theres
a lot to be said for somebody developing something thats
in their back yard.
Templeton adds that, for retailers initially wary of locating
in a so-called secondary market like Baton Rouge,
seeing the commitment of Spinosa and his team helps to assuage
any doubts they may have. Now Baton Rouge is on the radar
screen for many retailers, for this reason and because they
are able to come in and dominate the entire market, not just
chop up a few pieces of a much larger market. Baton Rouge
is also a consistent, stable economy, not seeing the extreme
highs or lows experienced in other parts of the country. Its
also a diverse economy, with the state government, Louisiana
State University and a high presence of petrochemical, engineering
and legal professionals.
Peterson says retailers can look to the success of CitiPlace
if they need another reason to give Baton Rouge and, specifically,
Perkins Rowe a try. We know by virtue of developing
CitiPlace that people here want this, Peterson says.
This United Artists theater here runs some of their
best numbers in the region, and this Barnes & Noble has
seen escalating sales since the day it opened, which is atypical.
Perkins Rowe is almost like a CitiPlace pulled in tighter,
with a lot more thought put into the pedestrian-friendly aspects.
We know from the success of CitiPlace that this is going to
be a slam dunk, for sure.
Spinosa is a self-professed doer, not a talker. He doesnt
mince words, and hes reluctant to announce things before
they happen. He does venture to make one prediction, however:
Ive got a high level of comfort that this is something
thats going to turn out very well, he says. For
the retailers, for the residents and for us as investors.
Were ready to go.
And Baton Rouge is ready for it.
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