Perkins Road Overpass businesses brace for I-10 widening project’s impending impact – The Advocate

Parking areas under I-10, shown Thursday, Feb., 24, 2022. Four years after it was announced, the Interstate 10 widening project is still lingering in the minds of anxious yet optimistic Perkins Overpass business owners. Construction, which is scheduled for 2023, could paralyze their available parking and access points — which weren’t abundant to begin with.
Parking under I-10 next to Schlittz & Giggles, one of the Perkins Road overpass-area businesses that could be affected by Interstate 10 widening work.  
Despite the concerns, construction shouldn’t deter new businesses from popping up, said Jordan Piazza, business manager for Schlittz & Giggles pizzeria.
“If you have a good brand, people are going to come and they’ll find you,” he said.
Chow Yum Phat, one of the Perkins Road Overpass area businesses that could be affected by Interstate 10 widening work. Jordan Ramirez, co-owner and operator of Chow Yum Phat, said the area is still “highly desirable.” He said state officials gave their word they would do their best not to block their access.
DiGiulio Bros. Italian Café, one of the Perkins Road Overpass area businesses that could be affected Interstate 10 widening work. “My spiritual animal is an ostrich. I’m going to stick my head in the sand and hope for the best,” joked Mike Johnson, co-owner of DiGiulio Bros.
Parking areas under I-10, shown Thursday, Feb., 24, 2022. Four years after it was announced, the Interstate 10 widening project is still lingering in the minds of anxious yet optimistic Perkins Overpass business owners. Construction, which is scheduled for 2023, could paralyze their available parking and access points — which weren’t abundant to begin with.
Parking under I-10 next to Schlittz & Giggles, one of the Perkins Road overpass-area businesses that could be affected by Interstate 10 widening work.  
Despite the concerns, construction shouldn’t deter new businesses from popping up, said Jordan Piazza, business manager for Schlittz & Giggles pizzeria.
“If you have a good brand, people are going to come and they’ll find you,” he said.
Chow Yum Phat, one of the Perkins Road Overpass area businesses that could be affected by Interstate 10 widening work. Jordan Ramirez, co-owner and operator of Chow Yum Phat, said the area is still “highly desirable.” He said state officials gave their word they would do their best not to block their access.
DiGiulio Bros. Italian Café, one of the Perkins Road Overpass area businesses that could be affected Interstate 10 widening work. “My spiritual animal is an ostrich. I’m going to stick my head in the sand and hope for the best,” joked Mike Johnson, co-owner of DiGiulio Bros.
The first time Ashley Quartararo stepped foot in the Christian Street building that houses her Fresh Salon hairstyling business, she knew she was hooked.
The structure — with its colorful exterior, quirky shape and proximity to the Perkins Road Overpass area — had the perfect vibe for a salon. She moved her business there in 2011, giving her the sense of autonomy and schedule flexibility she long desired.
But about four years ago, state officials told her the building, which hugs Interstate 10 at the overpass, was in right of way for the I-10 widening project from La. Hwy. 415 in West Baton Rouge Parish to the I-10/12 split.
Quartararo said she will take a buyout once offered, though she’s not sure when that will be. The project’s start date has been delayed as preliminary site work has dragged on.
“I don’t want to lose my building, but now I’m just ready for it to be done,” she said. “The stress of losing more employees — I can’t really hire anyone because I don’t know how long I have.”
Four years after it was announced, the I-10 project is still lingering in the minds of anxious yet optimistic Perkins overpass business owners. Construction, which is scheduled for 2023, could paralyze their available parking and access points — which weren’t abundant to begin with.
But the businesses contacted by The Advocate said they still cherish the neighborhood, and they know Baton Rouge’s traffic woes must be fixed — even though it could hurt their bottom line for several years.
“My spiritual animal is an ostrich. I’m going to stick my head in the sand and hope for the best,” joked Mike Johnson, co-owner of DiGiulio Bros. Italian Café on Perkins Road.
The concerns aren’t new. Similar widening plans fizzled out in 2012 and 2015 amid criticisms about their costs and their impacts to the Perkins overpass. Business owners in the area raised alarms again in 2018, when the latest plan was first spelled out.
The difference now is the state — behind a push from Gov. John Bel Edwards — is committed to the project. The Department of Transportation and Development says final design documents should be ready sometime in 2022, with construction beginning next year and major lane restrictions scheduled for 2024.
A DOTD report outlining the project spends many pages reviewing the effects on the Perkins overpass area. The businesses there are so woven into the city’s cultural and economic fabric that they could band together and apply for a National Register of Historic Places designation, the report says.
Despite the concerns, construction shouldn’t deter new businesses from popping up, said Jordan Piazza, business manager for Schlittz & Giggles pizzeria.
“If you have a good brand, people are going to come and they’ll find you,” he said.
Quartararo pointed out that businesses continue to open in the neighborhood. Gail’s Fine Ice Cream is set to open soon, a barbecue shop is set for the old Cracker Barrel location and the former Bumsteers restaurant is undergoing a renovation under the eye of Soji owner Chase Lyons.
Chow Yum Phat, an Asian street food eatery, took over an old City Pork location off Hollydale Avenue in 2019. At the time, City Pork managers said the uncertain construction timeline convinced them to move elsewhere once their lease expired.
Jordan Ramirez, co-owner and operator of Chow Yum Phat, said the area is still “highly desirable.” He said state officials gave their word they would do their best not to block their access.
“That’s what the hope is,” Ramirez said.
The Perkins overpass improvements may be the most ambitious of all the proposed I-10 plans.
Of the widening project’s estimated $1.1 billion price tag, about $236 million will be spent on work at Perkins Road and South Acadian Thruway, according to the latest DOTD estimates. That’s the highest estimate of all the planned project segments.
State officials recently announced the first construction segment will extend past Perkins to South Acadian, which should save about four years and $50 million.
The wish list for Perkins at I-10 is long: The on and off ramps will be removed; new parking spaces will be added and existing spaces under the interstate will be renovated; Greenwood Drive will be extended; and a walking trail accessible from both the overpass and the Acadian Village Shopping Center will be built.
The added parking will be a boon, said Johnson, the DiGiulio Bros. co-owner. But he said DOTD must ensure customers still have access to the businesses once the cranes go up, particularly as drivers clog side streets while I-10 is squeezed down.
“As long as they leave a door open to get on Perkins Road, to get in front of my business — we have a good enough product that people will still want to come here,” he said.
DOTD spokesman Rodney Mallett said several options are available to ease the impact on local businesses, including temporary parking and a pedestrian shuttle.
“We will know more as we get closer to work in that area, but there are several options that can play a role,” he said in an email.
Ramirez said the area under the interstate is wracked with potholes and loose gravel. He sees the proposed work as a net positive.
“To me it’d be worth it as long as they can hold up their end of the bargain,” he said.
Though the whole area will feel the effects, the DOTD report says three Perkins overpass businesses are directly in the right of way: Fresh Salon, the Overpass Merchant and Ivar’s.
The DOTD report gave two options for Overpass Merchant: “acquire and demolish” it, or “remove (the) modern addition,” a nod to the renovation and expansion of the building when the restaurant opened there in 2016.
Mallett said the state does not plan to purchase the Overpass Merchant building, but there will be “some impacts during construction.” An Overpass Merchant owner declined to comment for this story.
Ivar’s was dinged for a porch that sticks out into the right of way. An Ivar’s representative did not return calls for comment.
Quartararo said she believes sound walls will be erected where her building stands now.
“I’m going to get a payout and be able to leave,” she said. “(Other businesses) are going to have to go through all this horrible, horrible construction. It’ll probably impact them financially more than it, ultimately, will me. People aren’t going to want to go down there.”
Quartararo said she has no immediate plans to open up shop elsewhere. She said she could see herself return to the Overpass area, but not until construction is gone for good.
She added that she has no ill will toward the state. All she wants is a confirmed timeline for the buyout — and a better traffic situation in Baton Rouge.
“I left today, and traffic’s a parking lot on the interstate. I hope it works. I have no idea. I’m not an engineer, I’m a hairdresser,” she said with a laugh. “I love Baton Rouge. I want it to work.”
Email Robert Stewart at robert.stewart@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter, @ByRobertStewart.
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