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BATON ROUGE, LA-The developer of a Downtown project, originally proposed as a residential condominium tower with a small amount of retail space, has unveiled a new plan that would place 49 to 75 condos atop a 330-room hotel. Locally based Lafayette Development Holdings Ltd. hopes to have the $135-million RiverPlace under construction by January.

Lafayette partner Richard Preis says the absence of an established high-rise condominium market prompted the change. “Baton Rouge really doesn’t have a condo market,” he explains. “With the general problems in the residential market, we decided the original scheme didn’t make sense.” RiverPlace, planned for 427 Lafayette St., would take 18 to 24 months to complete.

By contrast, Preis says there is a “big-time” demand for hotels. “We had PKF do a study and it was very, very positive,” he says. “The city has a serious shortage of hotel rooms because we’ve been growing so fast. The population has exploded since Hurricane Katrina.”

Preis tells GlobeSt.com he has offers from two national hotel chains to operate the condo hotel, but he’s declining to reveal their names at this time. He says he will decide which one to go with on the basis of the management contracts. He expects to make a choice within 90 days, probably much sooner. He also expects to have a complete plan and drawings in place in the same period and hopes to begin test pilings before Labor Day.

The building will rise on a site overlooking the Mississippi River that formerly held the General Lafayette Inn and several small office buildings. The structures were demolished several years ago by another developer who tried to build a project there. RiverPlace will rise 26 to 30 floors depending on the number of condominiums.

According to Preis, Lafayette received 189 condo deposits for the original project. While three quarters of the depositors have expressed interest in the revised version, he says he has reservations for about 20 units. The majority of units will have two or three bedrooms, with the average unit at about 1,425 sf. The developer says the actual number of units will be determined partly by potential buyer interest and partly by the lending market. “With bank financing so hard to get right now, we’ll have to see what the lenders allow,” he says. Pricing for the units has not been determined.

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