Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Red River District Discussed at Last ABS Meeting

In attendance: Garrett Johnson, Barbara Jerrell, Cynthia Keith, Steph Pedro, David Aubry, Susan Fontaine, Carolyn Manning, Maurice Loridans, Loren Demerath, Robert Currie.


The group discussed the funding of the dog park. The idea from Councilman Oliver Jenkins seems to be that we first make a good faith effort to raise as much money as we can; we would set a target of $250,000 and see how close we can get to it. It seems possible given the fact that $200,000 was raised in just a few days for the Greenwood Cemetery at Centenary and Stoner. As for using city funds, Jenkins believes it is for a small demographic. It was noted that both the Stoner boat launch and the skate park probably serve no larger a demographic the dog park would, and they were funded with public funds. Keith talked to a formerly very high ranking city official about it who thought it was ridiculous that we were being asked to raise all that money. He noted that public parks generally aren’t paid for by private citizens. That said, Pedro noted that this is a chance for ABS to achieve something significant and seems attainable. Further, the city may step in and help us, so we’re relatively cushioned from failure. Moreover, there is a sharp eye kept on SPAR expenditures. When the dog park was first floated as a public project, Shelly Ragle said she got many calls against the dog park noting that we can’t open swimming pools so how can afford to build a dog park. It was noted that people did not realize that those expenses are taken from two completely different budgets, operational being distinct from construction.

In terms of how we fund, there are lots of ideas, including making little plaques on benches honoring people who’ve given a certain amount (Keith and Jenkins have both already thought of that).

The location would not be Hamell’s Memorial park, which floods, but instead an area by the skate park and the Stoner boat launch. Incidentally, that location would be out of Jenkins’ district, but Jenkins would still be involved since he is the head of city council now. Jenkins did say they would pay for $150,000 worth of it, which could be more than half. He also thought of the local Purina plant as well as five other people he named that could be good to approach for helping with funding. Some of the leads he gave, such as Robinson Rescue, Cynthia doesn’t want to approach because they’re raising money too. If they were to join us as part of the fundraising community, perhaps. However, it was noted that this is a one-time donation, because SPAR is going to maintain the park, not something that would consistently burden an organization like Robinson Rescue. It was noted we could ask them if they’re willing to add a form letter or flier in their own mailings that could provide information on how to sponsor the dog park.

One person noted that we don’t have an idea problem but a political problem of how to negotiate the process. We shouldn’t let details interfere with the fundraising. It’s good to put in the basics of what you want, but so much as to give the idea that we’re committed to certain details & locations. Tell just enough details to excite people, but not so much that people to think there’s a set plan which they might think of problems about.

Cynthia Keith was nominated to chair the committee, and Steph Pedro and Carolyn Manning were also nominated to serve on the committee. Each agreed to serve. They said they would decide on tasks and set a time line and come back to the group asking for help or additional committee members when/if necessary.


Demerath was congratulated on being appointed to the Red River District Committee, and he said was honored to serve. Currie said the name should be changed; the “red light district” is the connotation. Fontaine said many of her out of town friends have said that too. Loridans said the perception of parking has been a problem in the past. The 16th street trolley in Denver is a precedent for how such areas can be made successful and parking issues can be dealt with. Loridans noted that nobody goes to Bourbon Street thinking that they’re going to be completely in touch with their car. As soon as you get there, your car is more of a liability than an asset.

It was also noted that things need to filter down to the river from the district.

The casinos need to be in favor, or at least not resistant. If they’re not o.k. with something, it won’t happen. The casinos don’t want a passover to the boardwalk in Bossier, or a water taxi, but the Boardwalk did; lo and behold, neither has happened. It was noted that the casinos shouldn’t be able to condemn our downtown for their own private interests, but it appears they might be doing just that. However, such a strategy, if there is one, might be shortsighted, as a vibrant downtown might produce more traffic into the casinos than would take away from them. Certainly many who go to casinos in New Orleans wouldn’t have ended up going to them if they hadn’t been attracted to visit the city for other reasons, such as an active French Quarter. Shreveport could provide a similar regional draw for the casinos here.

It was noted that the traffic goes fast through the area; Johnson noted that the police use speed guns to pull people over there every day. Also, the whole district is hidden from passers-by in automobile. Loridans scouted it today and noted Nickey’s is not open for dinners other than Friday and Saturday nights. But others noted that Fatty Arbuckles is going strong. Moreover, the pedestrian traffic is nice and heavy there from 10 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. and beyond, peaking between 1 and 3.

Jerrell suggested making it a multicultural place, find a way to feature the different cultures that converge in Shreveport, including Vietnamese, Mexican, Asian, Arabic, Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim. It was also mentioned to be potentially be like Epcot Center where there are a restaurant/small indigenous gift shop, and entertainment, usually in the form of music or acting. One person noted it truly would be great to start with inviting cultures who actually do live in our area. One person heard that we have a great Buddhist Thai population in Bossier--but hardly any of them speak English! That could be a new job created for a Thai Interpreter!

Street vendors were suggested. They are fluid and can come and go as necessary, and can offer diverse things. Even shopping. “That would be great, to be able to go shopping when you’re drunk!” one supporter of the idea said.

Concern over preachers or others who might put off some from attending, sparked a discussion in the group over free speech in such locales. It was noted that private developers have the right to limit freedom of speech and impose dress codes, as the boardwalk does with its backwards baseball caps, etc.

Some in the group said it should stretch from along Commerce St. to down and around to the river. Commerce street offers the space to expand and offer diverse locations. It can’t just be what’s under the bridge, but needs to feed out into other areas.

Aubry noted that the perception is that the district has been a failure, but there is interest in three big vacancies. And it can be programmed and maintained well. It can be managed holistically with street vendors and maintenance, incorporating the green space at the corner of Texas and Spring, and incorporated into current festivals, or inspire new ones.

The shade is great under the bridge; it worked well for a Cinco de Mayo market held by some Mexican-Americans recently.

It was asked if people under 21 can still enter a certain area. As a 17 year old Susan couldn’t go to the district between Clyde Fant and Common.

Currie noted the more restrictions on business, the less activity is there. We have to incorporate what we already have and work to create a more seamless commerce area. Jerrell noted that you have to be aware of the markets of the existing businesses so as not to create unhealthy or unfair competition. On the other hand, the length of hours it could function create possibilities. For example, you could have a bike coop on the same block as a club because the hours are so different. It was noted that the 8 to 5 daytime users of a space don’t like racial and ethnic diversity in pedestrian activity. But the younger late night walkers and clubbers don’t care.

The loose restrictions in the district affect the outer areas of Broadmoor and Line Avenue, and Bossier as all the activity and money comes downtown after 2:00 a.m.

One air force person was once quoted in the Times as saying they’d been stationed all over the country and Shreveport has by far the best night life.

Many wondered why there aren’t condo’s over the restaurants in the District. One said it would be cool to look at the lights on the bridge, and residents would give it a more active, less-dead feel in the non-peak hours.

When someone else manages the district and gets the vacancies filled, the perception will be that it’s working, but we still won’t get what we really want. The owner of the building is El Dorado and the rent is still high. They can put the rent so high that the businesses can’t be successful, and so the restaurants fail; they don’t actually want a successful restaurant across the street from their casino. On the other hand, they wouldn’t mind residents. It was noted that poker’s popularity it could work in the casino’s favor. Could have all-night night care as well. Our area has a couple of 24 hour places here already. Jerrell said she’d move in tomorrow if someone gave her the space to live in. Pedro agreed. There is a lack of market rate apartments downtown. Curry talked about the possible locations nearby for residential spaces.


Loridans said we should see the Remington on Travis by Stray Cat—it’s now fabulous.


It was note that it is CPA work that needs to be done, and we need to raise money for it. David Nelson has somebody in mind. David Aubry knows people too. But there are costs associated with it; perhaps $700 or so. With about $200 in our account, if board members were to donate an average of $50 to $100, we would have what we need.


Cyclovia can’t be an officially organized event or we would need a parade permit. We can meet here and have some wine and then ride off. Eventually it would be great if people entered onto the route at various points going various directions.


Garrett described a book about Houston (“Houston, It’s Worth It”) that has pictures of sites around the city with quotes from people about what they like about a particular place in the city. It would be a good project involving artists, photographers, or anyone that wants to contribute that could fight the perception problem of the city. People could submit on line, either pictures and/or quotes.

The group will meet again next Monday at 6:00 p.m. at Cohabitat, as usual.


second hand said...

I love the ideas that came up. A bridge to the Boardwalk would be perfect. the best idea I believe is to connect the bridge to the existing Texas street bridge. Like a walkway underneath it.

Also the biggest building is housing a real estate business. A building that size need to be the anchor of the area. All of the businesses down there should be restaurants, nightclubs and cafes.

The festival plaza should filter people to the Red River District. Have a open bottle policy in that area and that area only. Use the same rules as the boardwalk for dress code and age restrictions.

I hope the city gets the area. If that area starts to thrive then you will see the riverboats get more people. Cant see why they dont see that but .........hey!

Loren Demerath said...

Second Hand you're right on with the pedestrian bridge idea! A walkway underneath it would be cheap and effective and, hey, cool!

Come by a meeting some time! We'd love to meet you and hear more thoughts!

- Loren

Landman of the Apocalypse said...

Your challenges with the Red River District are not unlike those faced in Baton Rouge, my former home town. BR now has a robust downtown entertainment district, but it was a long time coming. The effort started in 1984 with the now defunct Catfish Town. It took a lot of fits and starts in BR, but success did come. Keep plugging!

Regarding the dog park, why should private fundraising be necessary? Here's an idea-- figure out where you want the dog park and start bringing your dogs there. Then you have a dog park. Once you demonstrate the interest, should it not be easier to get local government to provide the needed facilities?

Wish my landlord would let me have a dog.

Loren Demerath said...

Thanks for the comments, Landman! Good to hear of Baton Rouge's history re the Catfish Town. And they want a dog park the city can be proud of, so we're aiming relatively high.

second hand said...

I wish I could Loren but I am a Shreveport refugee. But I still read about my hometown and I am concerned about it. My parents still stay there (Allendale and Highland), so I keep tabs on the going-ons. Please keep the discussions going.