Lousiana capital's riverfront gets first hotel in 50 years

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BATON ROUGE, La. -- This city's downtown riverfront is being revitalized.

Downtown got its first new hotel in more than 50 years when the Sheraton Baton Rouge Convention Center Hotel opened Feb. 5.

The 300-room hotel, overlooking the Mississippi, is across from the city's Riverside Centroplex convention center.

A covered walkway connects the hotel to the Argosy Casino, one of the Louisiana capital's two riverboat casinos.

Plans are under way to begin work by early summer on the Centroplex's expansion, expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2003.

The Sheraton Baton Rouge was designed to fit in with the architecture of the area's brick warehouses, which have been converted to offices.

A rendering of the $10 million Irene W. Pennington Planetarium, which will be build next to the Louisiana Arts and Science Center. According to the Baton Rouge Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the district has seen new restaurants, bars and antique shops opening.

Davis Rhorer, executive director of Baton Rouge's Downtown Development District, said the new hotel "completes the circle of art, history, education and entertainment available around our convention center."

"We're able to market downtown Baton Rouge around the world in the way we have always wanted to," he said.

Paul Arrigo, the CVB's vice president of sales and marketing, said the new hotel and convention center addition will position the city for larger conferences and conventions, opening new market possibilities.

"We're truly moving to an arena of national and regional shows and meetings," he said.

Traditionally, he said, the city's market has been predominantly state associations and sports (it has Louisiana State University and Southern University), and it will be able to build on this.

"With the Sheraton open, I think we'll see a lot of interest from hotel developers," Arrigo added.

The Sheraton has 14,000 square feet of function space, plus a 40,000-square-foot atrium.

Arrigo noted that a planetarium proposed for downtown will add meeting and entertainment space.

The $10 million Irene W. Pennington Planetarium will be built next to the Louisiana Arts and Science Center.

Included will be a 150-seat theater with a 60-foot-wide domed projection screen.

Groundbreaking was held last October; construction is scheduled to start soon, and the facility is expected to open in spring next year.

Last November, voters approved funding for the Centroplex addition.

Currently, the facility features 28,000 square feet of exhibition space; a 30,000-square-foot arena seating 12,500, and a 2,000-seat theater.

The addition will provide 70,000 square feet of additional space that can be combined with the arena to provide 100,000 square feet of exhibition space.

The existing 28,000 square feet of exhibition space will be converted to a ballroom.

"This will give us a neat package of an arena, a ballroom, a theater and an exhibition hall," said Arrigo.

"Baton Rouge is a very affordable destination, and we take pride in providing an authentic Louisiana experience."

The state splits Louisiana into five regions for tourism marketing purposes: North (Sport's Paradise), Central (Crossroads), South (Cajun Country), South Central (Plantation Country) and Southeast (Greater New Orleans).

Baton Rouge, 77 miles northwest of New Orleans, is part of Plantation Country, which was named last fall by Fodor's as one of the world's top 10 overlooked and underrated winter destinations.

For details, call the Baton Rouge Area CVB at (800) LA-ROUGE.

The CVB's Web site can be found at www.batonrougetour.com.

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