Thursday, October 11, 2012

SRAC Presents Inspiring Shreveport Common Progress. Let's Make Downtown Culturally Rich and Vital!

  Pictured here from right are Gregory Free and Pam Atchison

The ABS Board hosted the leaders of SRAC and the Shreveport Common proposal.  It was a meeting that left us optimistic for the future of downtown!

In attendance: Kathryn Brandl, Wendy Benscoter, Pam Atchison, Feico Kempff, Maurice Loridans, Brian Salvatore, Loren Demerath

Wendy Benscoter, has been educated in Creative Placemaking at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  Building on that relationship, the State of Louisiana Office of Cultural Development headed by Pam Breux has formed a formal partnership with Rutgers so that people will spend six months in LA in residence.  As Pam introduced Wendy and explained the program, on the topic of urban planning she mentioned that Paul Farmer is from Shreveport, and comes here every three months, and might be a great guest on the radio show “Time for ABetterShreveport”.  Great idea Pam!

Wendy explained that Creative Placemaking transforms communities with art and culture.  SRAC’s offices are an example of leading a cultural revitalization at the west edge as a gateway into downtown.  SRAC says listening sessions helped shape the vision.  An “Inside-Out Charette” on Shreveport Common Day allowed people to imagine what the space around Texas Avenue and Common would be like with art infusing the space.

As for the new SRAC headquarters in the old Central Fire Station, the money has been raised, construction is underway, and they should be moving in in a few months.

ABS has long pushed for bike racks downtown, and we were happy to hear how SRAC held an “Art in Transportation” workshop (a number of bike racks have been designed, judged and are about to be built with SRAC’s support).  At the workshop, national “gurus” in art and transportation led participants in a symposium to work on developing plans.  The principle winning design is by a Tuscon designer, entitle, “Line and Sky” CommonLink; the kiosk cubes (functioning a lot like tablet computers) can play music and feature local works.

Wendy showed how market value buildings are envisioned to the west of the Municipal Auditorium with a boulevard to it’s east that will lead to the common, a “Grand Promenade” (now funded) just west of where the Makers Fair is now held.

Loren asked if this would help attract residents downtown, and Pam noted that they did an artists survey to help research how they can help artists support themselves, in addition to through training and facilities; they asked what artists would want to live downtown; they’ve planned a market study of the area; including a position analysis of the area of what the market value rates are.  

SRAC and the partners (36 organizations!) are helping change to come and allow the plan to become a reality.  The goal is end up with 250-300 market value homes, mainly for people without kids; pre or post family. The market study would look for places for retail to minimize need for driving; elderly people, for example, have noted they like to live in an area where they don’t have to drive.

The Fairmont is being improved and reducing the crime that has been there in the past, and SmarterPhoneApp and iArchitecture have moved into the Fairmont retail space.

Among the work groups SRAC has organized to develop the plan has been the Parks and Green Spaces Group chaired by Donna Curtis; the Transportation Group has included ABS Board members Maurice Loridans and Carolyn Manning; the Developer group is chaired by Edward Taylor, includes various developers; the Artist group is chaired by Bruce Allan; the Vendors group is chaired by Monty Walford; Arts Programming is chaired by Angelique Feaster, with Askari Hinton, Will Andress, April Dahm, among others; public art is chaired by Jodi Glorioso (there is currently a public art call to temporary pieces, and Robert Trudeau has received the first of the awards); the social services group is chaired by Chista Pazzaglia (Loren has since invited her to ally with his urban sociology class); and chairing the communication group is Jennifer Allen.

Loren asked is any urban planners have been involved, since this is a project in urban planning, and Pam said Dara Sanders, planner for Caddo Parish, has been an overseer of handing out bond money.

Feico asked about property owners; who can be negligent with their property.  Brian said he perceived downtown owners as waiting for the big concept; he also noted he liked Louisiana Avenue being the entrance from Highland; Pam mentioned a need for a market space; Maurice mentioned need for a permanent farmers market space. Pam mentioned Shreveport-itis as a problem where people hold out to invest (sell, etc.); and they won’t develop until they see something happen.  One church, for example, doesn’t want to move unless something happens.  Many don’t want to sell just for the appraised value, which is an insult to people who bought it in the 1980’s, Pam said.  And some have been turned pessimistic by previous experiences.  There was push to do something in the ‘90’s called Fame, but didn’t end up happening, so now many have their doubts.  At least a third of property owners are apparently hesitant at selling and are shocked and amazed that their land could be work so little now.  The city has been willing to trade land that they own; that’s been successful; e.g. with the Rescue Mission, and other deals may be in the works.  The partnership with DDA and Bonnie Moore’s department in the city with development has been very helpful.  Wendy and Pam are programmers, but not the developers.  Malcolm Statlander (once a guest on the radio show who spoke on adjudicated property) is the head of doing appraisals for the city.  

Feico asked if the city will be able to maintain its focus on this with the Red River District now in their hands.  Pam said Deborah Camis is working on getting stores and is a go-getter.  Pam also said they’re not looking for the big name, established stores that the District would be, but stores that are more unique and less branded and familiar.

Pam noted they hope for a Texas Street bike path that goes through the alleys; Maurice shared the idea of a bike cooperative for downtown, noting that Liz Swaine knows about it, and that we need a building that can be used for storage and security. Maurice also noted that a lot of art goes on in bike coops.

Loren asked how ABS can help.  Pam said their challenge is to finish the Caddo Common--the park in the middle of the plan.  They are one piece away from having everything in place; Robert Cochran is the owner they haven’t talked to yet, but are working on getting an appointment with him.  But, none of us present were able to say we knew that person, so Pam went to the following points where we could help:

1. ABS could approve the Shreveport Common Bike Plan.  Maurice will present it to us.  The routes were actually started in ABS, the map was then turned over to NLCOG, and we haven’t seen it since, but look forward to looking at it.

2. Pam said you are the kinds of people who we want to live there; you can help launch that lifestyle; developers want to know who will live here and what do they need?  Putting out a vision of downtown life that’s synchronous with what’s being offered would help developers, she said.

3. Pam also said it helps to build the destination in advance; Downtown Neon helped sell Robinson, Tipitinas, and Artspace, and they plan to do the same with Shreveport Common in March, and will do so again quarterly.  They don’t have a name for what it would be, but Uncommon Saturdays in Shreveport; Undone in Shreveport Common, are top nominees at this point, but anyone can help name it!

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