Developer to Start on Office Building in Baton Rouge, La.

Wampold Companies plans to begin construction in August on the II City Plaza, the first large-scale office building in downtown Baton Rouge in more than 25 years.

Developer Mike Wampold also confirmed Friday that the 12-story, 260,000-square-foot complex at Convention and Fourth streets will be anchored by Regions Bank and that the Phelps Dunbar law firm, now in the adjacent City Plaza building, will move there as well.

Wampold said that no other tenants have been signed so far, though negotiations are taking place with several companies.

The building is expected to open by the end of 2008.

An updated rendering of the project released Friday is similar to the original design, though there are a few minor changes.

When Wampold announced the project in December, he had planned to start construction in April. The date was pushed back, he said Friday, because of the design changes.

Originally, the 16-story structure included two floors of parking. The new 12-story plan places a slightly smaller, detached garage on the west side of the building.

"Market and cost," he said when asked about removing the other two floors.

The price tag has changed, too. Wampold now plans to spend $70 million on the project, up $5 million from the original figure. The cost is being funded in part with federal Gulf Opportunity Zone bonds created after hurricanes Katrina and Rita to stimulate development.

He still plans to connect the new tower to City Plaza via a granite-and-glass breezeway. Other amenities include a courtyard between the towers and a first-floor Regions branch with 10,000 square feet of additional high-end retail space.

Though no other retail tenants have been signed, yet, Wampold said he will court businesses such as coffee shops, small restaurants, a laundry and a gift shop, among others.

When complete, II City Plaza will be the first large, nongovernmental office building in downtown since 1980.

Brokers also are looking forward to the increase in Class A office space, a segment of the Baton Rouge market that already was near capacity before Hurricane Katrina boosted demand.

"There is no Class A space available right now," said Branon Pesnell with Beau Box Commercial Real Estate.

Pesnell, who tracks office space data in Baton Rouge, said the demand for downtown Class A space has become especially brisk. The consolidation of state government agencies there has attracted private companies to the downtown area, and many contractors involved in hurricane recovery efforts want to be near government offices as well.

He said Wampold's plan to charge $28 per square foot is high, even compared with large regional markets like Houston.

"But it's a function of construction prices," Pesnell said. "The demand is there right now, and the market is very high right now."