CAMP FORBING MARKETPLACE DEVELOPS
new property Aids in Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan
Most people who grew up in Shreveport have visited the YMCA’s Camp Forbing for one of its summer programs or youth football games or perhaps to navigate its challenge course designed to improve relationship building and self esteem.
The property’s distinctive wilderness campground landscape has quietly remained unchanged as Southeast Shreveport and the Ellerbe Road development bloomed all around it. That landscape is about to change as preparations are being made for Camp Forbing Marketplace, a new mixed-use development to be built on a large portion of the 47-acre property located on the northwest corner of East Flournoy Lucas at Ellerbe Road in Shreveport. The sale of the land that has been operated by the YMCA for 45 years will also enable the YMCA to build its new, state-of-the-art facility and provide services for an ever-growing population.
Working with the City
In December, the Shreveport City Council adopted the zoning amendment that will permit NewQuest Properties, a development firm in Houston, to purchase the tax-exempted property from the YMCA. The closing is scheduled at the end of March 2015.
NewQuest Properties is a Houston-based commercial real estate company with a portfolio exceeding $1.13 billion in assets, including 12 million square feet of leasing space and 50 retail centers throughout Texas. NewQuest has worked with the Shreveport Metropolitan Planning Commission as well as residents in order to gather information about design and potential retailers.
Mark W. Sweeney is the newly appointed director at Shreveport’s Metropolitan Planning Commission, and he said what paved the road for this to happen was the city council’s approval of expanding the scope and powers of the Shreveport Industrial Development Board.
“Basically, this streamlines the process by allowing the city council and the Metropolitan Planning Commission the flexibility to deal with zoning,” Sweeney said. “We can make approvals on issues such as alcohol sales so they don’t have to go through a separate process.”
Sweeney said this will be the first time there will be a planned unit for mixed-use development as opposed to residential.
“It gives us the power to negotiate with the developer so we can get a better deal,” he said. “For example, the initial plan they presented had very little sidewalks. We were able to present ideas such as more sidewalks, better landscaping and outdoor dining areas in order to attract better restaurants. We proposed moving buildings closer in and allowing office space for an urban village concept that combines offices, restaurants, retail and recreational and the developer agreed.”
Camp Forbing Marketplace will be NewQuest Properties’ first development outside of Texas. “We chose Shreveport as our first venture outside of Texas because we like the location. We like the community, and we like the people,” Shannon Parker, director of marketing at NewQuest, said.
“We wanted to create a neighborhood center,” Parker said. “We wanted something that fits in with the community, something that represents the community. What we don’t like to do is just decimate a piece of land and put a building on it. We spend money on the property keeping it up.”
The mixed-use project will be anchored by a 120,000-square-foot high-end national chain grocery store and will also feature a 24-hour fitness facility, a coffee shop and other retail and commercial businesses. NewQuest’s full-color renderings include a fuel center, seven pad sites and signalized access at the main entrance. “We wanted to provide this under-served, high-end community with much needed office, recreation and retail space,” Parker said.
NewQuest paints an appealing picture of the Shreveport-Bossier City Metropolitan community and rightly so. The two towns together have six historic districts and many landmarks listed on the National Register, with Shreveport second only to New Orleans among Louisiana cities with multiple historic landmarks. Shreveport’s position as the third largest city in Louisiana and its location at the center of the Ark-La-Tex region where Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas meet are other carrots for pulling potential new businesses to the area.
The Camp Forbing Marketplace development will set a precedent for new development in the area by the resulting implementation of the first Commercial Planned Urban Development ordinance to be created in Shreveport, an ordinance that will include a Unified Development Code, a major element in the Shreveport-Caddo 2030 Master Plan. The business-friendly ordinance will streamline the zoning process and hopefully, attract new developers to the area.
City leaders and NewQuest developers hope to change the way development is done in Shreveport. The way this plan differs from previous commercial endeavors is the inclusion of more trees, landscaping and public gathering areas. Water features will also be added, with a proposed lake running through the center of the marketplace. Future projects will look at the Camp Forbing Marketplace as an example of what the city expects from its new development throughout the city, not just in Southeast Shreveport.
Although the Camp Forbing property sale will cut the YMCA’s land ownership area in half, it will allow the YMCA to vastly improve its service to Northwest Louisiana.
Gary Lash, CEO of YMCA of Northwest Louisiana, said there is a greater need for the YMCA to help educate the public about health, fitness and nutrition. “Louisiana just passed up Mississippi as the No. 1 state with the most obesity,” he said. “We also have more dialysis here than any other state. When giving people tools to fight diabetes and other obesity-related health problems, we try to teach more than just how to exercise. We have been teaching people about nutrition and how to cook healthy meals.”
The new state-of-the-art YMCA will encompass 33,000-square-feet with an indoor swimming pool and a kitchen designed for the purpose of nutrition education. The building will be located just to the rear of the marketplace retail stores and right across the proposed lake from the yet-to-be-named retail grocery anchor. “We will be able to take revenue from this and use it to run programs in other neighborhoods,” Lash said, “such as our soccer programs at Queensborough and Barret Elementary schools. We are selling 28 acres and keeping about 20 acres. People worried about the environment have told me, ‘But we’ll lose this canopy.’ But these pine trees have died due to a needle infestation. New trees will be planted.” In fact, Lash said when the contract was drawn up, the parties included the stipulation that the YMCA leaders would have input on landscaping up until closing but that everyone had the same agenda. “These guys are used to that kind of landscaping like you see in Texas,” Lash said. “They incorporate the landscaping into the design. They use monument signs as opposed to pole designs. They will ensure that everything complies with the master plan, and then it will be maintained by the common maintenance agreement.”
The Camp’s History
Lash also shared a bit of Camp Forbing’s history and its significance to the area. “That property had been a camp from 1900-35 and was run by Louisiana Sunday School Association established by the Disciples of Christ,” Lash said. “People would ride the train to Shreveport and stay there for weeklong training sessions. There was a thousand-seat amphitheater. The property was sort of donated to the YMCA in 1935 in an agreement where the Y paid the back taxes.”
At that point, the property was used as a YMCA camp, with cabins and other structures being added over the years by organizations such as the Shreveport Rotary Club and donors such as Randal T. Moore. The swimming pool added in the late 1950s is still referred to by some as “the Elvis pool.”
“In 1956, KWKH still had Elvis Presley under contract to do free concerts,” Lash said. “Once he went on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ he was famous so they offered to let Elvis out of his contract if he would do this one fundraising concert at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum. The benefit raised $16,000 and Norman Kinsey gave another $2,000 to pay for the construction of the pool.”
In fact, Camp Forbing is full of stories and items worth preserving, and Lash along with NewQuest are determined to incorporate some of that history into the new YMCA space and the Camp Forbing Marketplace, including the totem poles from the Indian Princess Adventure Guides program, the contents of a time capsule located on the property and a 1914 water fountain monument. “When a friend and I were clearing some of the space a few years ago,” Lash said, “we cut away some limbs to discover the 12-foot high fountain monument. It has three spigots on each side and the way it was designed, you’d put a block of ice in the middle. The developer has been really committed to preserving the historical significance of the camp, and the fountain will be retained and relocated in some place of prominence.”
That seems to be the precedent city officials and many residents want to set for new development: to incorporate the culture and history of Shreveport while moving the city into the 21st century with new development and new jobs, all while incorporating plenty of green space for healthy living.