Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Texas Ave and Shreveport Common: a visit with designer Gregory Free, with downtown Jason Brown and businessman Richard Sparke

A Better Shreveport
Originally uploaded by trudeau
By Loren Demerath.
In attendance: Loren Demerath, Robert Trudeau, Jason Brown, Gregory Free, Garrett Johnson, Cynthia Keith, Susan Fontaine, Carolyn Manning, Richard Spark, April Dahm, Caroine Majors, Stacye Palmer, Steph Pedro, Feico Kempff, Maurice Loridans, April Waren, David Nelson, Linda England.

The group discussed its wants and needs for Texas Ave., and downtown generally. It was noted that ABS members are people coming to ABS from other experiences, cities, etc, and have wanted to incorporate the best practices from elsewhere, yet as they best fit this area.


Gregory Free spoke of how SRAC's burning down provided the opportunity for a Shreveport Common and a new headquarters for SRAC that can be an asset to the city. There was a fear that the organization would never see its insurance money, or that it would be placed where ever there is vacent space; vs. where could it go that would help the city; the nature of the Central Fire Station provided the particular opportunity.

They looked at 12 sites over 2 days, not including the Fire Station; it was going to be the Fire Fighters Museum, but museums don’t have the same impact. Brian Crawford, the Fire Chief (great guy, says Gregory) helped a lot in making the transition.

Shreveport is well-organized, the arts located in that area naturally, with the Central Fire Station located centrally; there's been a lot of buy-in locally and early; Greg chatted with Mayor Glover about use for the station; the plan of SRAC helped funnel the available money; “where could it better help the city?” was a phrase the Mayor borrowed from Gregory. State Senator Lydia Jackson helped find funds; SRAC has found 2.5 million that’s been matched, with the Mayor’s help to leverage insurance money to match the grant. Out of 200 cities they chose 20, and Shreveport was one of them chosen by the Endowment for the Humanities. Now they’re all working as parts of teams, figuring out the roles of the partners along the way.

This is has to be a social, collective effort; it will look to the history of the city to give it depth and meaning; Greg is inspired by Dolores Hayden, “The Power of Places” to change our lives for the better; Kevin Lynch, J.B. Jackson, etc. to maximize the power of our city’s history and culture. The term Common comes from a meeting place, a shared public space, etc.


ABS has long talked about how downtown needs a grocery story and bookstore downtown. There's the old saw that retail follows rooftops, but it didn't across the river at the Boardwalk in Bossier; when a group of properties can be parcelled together and coordinated, things can happen.

As the group discussed perceptions of safety in downtown, it was noted that Ledbetter Heights is now emptier; Jason said that Sprague St. is no longer full of addicts and prostitutes; Jason has been working for the prosecutor’s office to help change it; he noted that now is the opportunity to make something of that area; he's been working on Snow St., and is near shutting down the Livingston Motel which is used predominantly for drugs and prostitution; once they seize the property, what to do with it? Options are to give it to non-profits, or more responsible developers.

It was noted that so many downtown properties are in adjudication; the core of the city should be valuable property; not festering with crime and danger; that’s why emminant domain is proper when its used in the interests of the city.

The group discussed the predicament of wanting to move crime out of valuable areas in the city on the one hand, to not wanting to isolate and ghettoize low income people on the other hand. Caroline was referred to Jason as having information on what proper mixed income can look like. (What's truly mixed income, by the way? Is a more realistic model to have a healthy balance of intra-neighborhood homogeneity and inter-neighborhood connectivity? -- Loren wondered aloud.)

Taxes are a concern for the impact of improvements and development in an area. There was fortuitous timing in Jason getting the Calanthian Temple just as Millennium Studios was beginning, but that would coincidence. The Calanthian will be a private building; limited commercial space; office space for an attorney, for example. Jason said that in seeing a vision for downtown and not wanting to go live on Ellerbe Road, etc., "apart from us here, everyone thinks we’re nuts." April disagreed, noting that when you talk to people about downtown they want to happen and see potential. Loren noted that people wanting an active downtown is practically universal; who doesn't like the French Quarter, Paris, Manhattan, or a big university campus, for that matter? Active pedestrian spaces are exciting and interesting.

In discussing downtown spaces, it was noted that the space adjacent to the Forum News is being abandoned, Jack Lamb, doesn’t care about refurbishing it necessarily. Richard Sparke said he would be willing to sell his space for the purpose of redevelopment, but not for having it torn down it for some supercenter; but others said there is a new culture that is emerging where people don’t want to ever go to another chain restaurant; and smaller scale groceries are becoming fashionable; Richard said that may just be Yankee culture that doesn’t belong here and wouldn’t work. Loren said that was debatable and trends would suggest the contrary.

It was noted that the Feist and the Jenkins families have properties downtown and are not doing anything with them; the Carruthers family also owns property downtown; Roland Toups bought 3 buildings downtown and destroyed them to have a parking lot; the property was more valuable to him that way. It was noted that these things could be similar to forcing I-49 into unhealthy areas for the city for private profit. When Loren spoke to Mayor Glover about that possibility and shared his perception that doing such a thing for that reason would be a sin, the Mayor immediately stuck out his hand and said, "Amen!"

But it was asked what’s there in ordinances to protect downtown from being devastated for private profit? The answer from planners Steph Pedro and Caroline Majors and others: precious little. It was noted that the zoning laws need to change and they’re looking for funding to do that. Linda England passed on the message to April Dahm that Jeff Everson wanted to know what TACA needs from him for funding for historical areas because Jeff knows his way around that funding. Stacye Palmer knows about the national historic areas and she said she might be able to help as well.

Jason said in New Orleans, there are organizations that have complete control over certain historic areas and that’s how those areas have been preserved; Caroline and Steph and Cynthia all noted there is a redevelopment authority for Shreveport that’s being proposed in the Masterplan; now it’s the city council, which means there is really no authority; Jason said he was there when they tore down the buildings for Toups, and they found perfectly preserved rooms to which there was no access!

Jason also talked about renovate properties and selling them at cost; and not just one property but several. You can coordinate and centralize control over renovation by giving seized properties to developers with a purpose. (Sounds like an idea!!)


April Waren spoke on her and Steph’s meeting with Kent Rogers and NLCOG; Southern will be cooperating with a shuttle service; Ken Rogers will be also be talking to Brian Parsons, the head of bicycle-pedestrian transportation for the DOTD of Louisiana. Kent is going to help seek funding for the bike-ped plan, and Brian has wanted to fund one. Go Kent! And be our hero, Brian!

Mr. Richard mentioned that the Oakland Cemetery group is in the process of trying to restore the cemetery; on the 7th they’ll have an event. They’ll eventually have to put in new family stones; they’ve had to identify the graves.

April Dahm reminded all that the Makers Fair is this and the next Saturday 10 to 4; Port Belly at 3; live music at other times, all at Texas Ave. and Common, across the street from the Central Fire Station, future home of SRAC, as discussed previously.

Jason noted that where the old SRAC space is the space is currently wasted. A real asset for the city, he said, could be a classically designed rugby field, usable for all sorts of small crowd football games as well. The rugby club in town has a lot of support, and is a long standing tradition in town, the longest running competitive sports club in shreveport. They're thinking about a roofed, bandstand style small stadium setting. Most high school crowds get swallowed up in stadiums that are much too big form them. This would be a community draw, fitting the scale of local events, and be right downtown!

The group will meet again next Monday, again from 6:00 to 7:00 in Centenary Square.

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