Louisiana Casino Fights to Turn Historic Building into Parking Lot

The Belle of Baton Rouge Casino has recently made headlines with its request to demolish the Maritime II Building. The casino's management has proposed the demolition of this building to make way for additional parking space, a move that has sparked considerable debate among local residents and historians.

The Belle of Baton Rouge casino in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Source: The Advocate)

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According to local media outlet WAFB, the Maritime II Building, once an integral part of the historic Catfish Town district, sits at the pivotal point where Government Street merges into River Road. Currently, the property serves as office space for the casino's operations, but it has fallen into a state of disrepair that necessitates extensive renovations.

Related: Louisiana Queen Baton Rouge Casino is Due to Open in August

The Belle's administration has disclosed that a construction firm, engaged by the casino to evaluate the building, has reported multiple structural issues. The estimated cost for the necessary repairs and restorations, according to the unidentified company, could reach $10 million, a figure that has added fuel to the ongoing controversy surrounding the building's fate.

The Historic Preservation Commission, tasked with safeguarding the city's architectural heritage, has rejected the Belle's request for demolition. The commission's decision was influenced, in part, by its belief that the casino has not thoroughly explored alternative solutions for its parking predicament. This stance by the commission underscores the ongoing tension between development interests and historical conservation efforts in Baton Rouge's rapidly evolving urban center.

In response to the commission's denial, the Belle has lodged an appeal with the East Baton Rouge Metro Council, the body responsible for the final say on such matters. The council's deliberations are highly anticipated, as they will determine the future of both the Maritime II Building and the casino's expansion plans. The outcome of this appeal is poised to set a precedent for how Baton Rouge will balance its rich history with the demands of modern growth.

The Metro Council has recently voted to postpone its final decision on the matter to July 24.

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The Birth of the Belle

The Belle of Baton Rouge Casino boasts a history intertwined with the evolution of legalized gambling in Louisiana. Its story begins in 1994, when it first set sail as the "Catfish Queen," a riverboat casino. Back then, Louisiana law mandated that casinos operate on water, although lawmakers began allowing these properties to move to dry land a few years ago.

The Catfish Queen was part of a development project called "Jazz Enterprises' Catfish Town," aiming to revitalize the Baton Rouge riverfront. However, legal challenges and construction delays plagued the project. It wasn't until 1995 that Argosy Gaming purchased Jazz Enterprises, acquiring the Catfish Queen and the surrounding land. This shift allowed for the construction of permanent land-based facilities alongside the casino boat.

The Catfish Queen underwent a name change in 1999, becoming the Argosy Casino Baton Rouge. This period saw continued development, with the opening of the three-story Argosy Landing building and the glass-enclosed Argosy Festival Atrium. These additions offered guests a wider range of amenities beyond just gambling, solidifying the casino's position as a destination for entertainment. However, the initial agreement with the city of Baton Rouge stipulated the construction of a hotel. Delays in meeting this deadline resulted in the casino incurring penalty payments until construction finally commenced in 1999.

The new millennium brought another ownership change for the casino. In 2008, Caesars Entertainment acquired the Argosy Casino Baton Rouge, and it remained under its umbrella for over a decade. Then, in 2019, the casino was sold once more, this time to its current owner, the Queen Casino & Entertainment Inc.


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