Developer Larry Walsh says he’s about 80% sure he will close on the long-vacant shell of a building on Lafayette Street across from the Hilton Capitol Center that he recently put under contract for about $1 million.
Walsh is considering condos, apartments, and a first-floor meeting space for one of the nearby hotels for the two-story building he climbed as a child to see movies for free.
“My gut tells me we’ll do all condos, but we’ll see,” he says.
Walsh grew up in Baton Rouge’s Southdowns neighborhood. He says he used to climb the Lafayette Street building’s fire escape and cross over onto another building to get to the old Paramount Theatre on Third Street, where the top-floor door would be open.
“When you’re 12, you think you’re invincible,” he says with a laugh.
Walsh says members of his family used to own a lot of property downtown, including the land that was sold to build the state Capitol, and says a relative may have owned the former Lafayette Street print shop, though he hasn’t confirmed that.
Walsh developed Baton Rouge properties during the 1980s and early ‘90s but moved to Florida as the economy turned south. His company focuses on multifamily development, particularly along Highway 30A in northwest Florida.
Though the building, which the Downtown Development District says dates back to 1932, has been vacant and gutted for decades, Walsh says a structural engineer has found that the exterior walls and metal beams are in good shape. Walsh sees the potential for creating 15 condos, which would require adding a third floor.
“We’re going into it with our eyes open,” he says. “We know it will be an interesting challenge.”