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Monday, March 16, 2015

Our Urban Core

The changing role of downtown(s)

For much of the history of Shreveport, the downtown core was the place people worked, shopped and were entertained.

All that began changing in a big way in the 1950s, and by the 1970s, downtown was rushing headlong into irrelevance.

The suburbs were where it was at, the shopping malls were the new trendy centers of commerce, and jobs were rapidly following the new subdivisions. Downtown was yesterday’s news. We all know if we wait a few years, clothing and furnishings will come back in style – just look at Mid Century Modern architecture and 1970s-era clothing – but the same is apparently true of places, too.

The allure of urban residential and entertainment options has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, but a just-released report by City Observatory, a think-tank out of Portland, Ore., said in terms of employment, too, the suburbs are out, and downtowns are in. We’re excited by that finding.

Over six decades, employment moved outward to shadow suburban residential and transportation technology like ports and truck terminals. In 2007, that trend began to decline, and by 2011 the change was clear – jobs were moving back to city centers. With the shift to knowledge- and service-based industries, downtowns have the potential for even more job growth. In addition, accommodation, food services and arts, entertainment and recreation showed larger gains as did professional services, finance, insurance and real estate. Fueling this job growth, according to the report, is a growing preference for urban living.

Between 2000 and 2012 in 49 out of 52 large metropolitan downtowns, the number of college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds increased twice as fast as in the greater metro area. In 2010, college educated young adults were 126 percent more likely to live close to downtown central business districts.

Companies are altering their growth or expansion plans to move back into the city center and tap into this educated labor pool. These factors, say the report’s authors, as well as the growth of education and medicine, the continuing relative decline of manufacturing and distribution, and the lack of major investments in new highway infrastructure – all give us reason to believe that the shift toward city center growth is not a temporary anomaly. That is good news for all downtowns, Shreveport’s included.

Our urban core is seeing the trends play out with the positioning of the old Selber Bros. building as a hightech data center, the Lofts@624 retail and residential development and the Shreveport Common Art District.

With these and other opportunities in the pipeline, downtown Shreveport can yet become the vibrant, 24-7, opportunity-filled city center we all want.

A Permanent Pop UP

Downtown’s Red River District is welcoming two new businesses to the space under the bridge, one a former Pop UP. Appli-K’s, which features clothing, custom personalization and monogramming, is open next door to Hippie Baby and will be joined in May by the upscale Bon Temps Coffee Bar. Katy Rhodes, Appli-K’s owner and the winner of the Committee of One Hundred’s free rent for a year, is one of those great American success stories. She and her mother opened an at-home sewing business in 2009. They first attended local craft fairs but became hugely popular when Rhodes started offering custom, on-site monogramming to go along with her mother’s popular 1-off bags, scarves and themed items. In 2013, Rhodes’s business became too big for her home when she landed a contract with Dillard’s to provide custom monogramming of UGG boots and other wearables. As Rhodes’s business exploded, it became clear her home no longer provided the space and visibility she needed, and she had begun to consider a storefront option.

Winning the Committee of One Hundred-funded Pop UP year of free rent was a dream come true for her and a boost for the Red River District and downtown retail options.

“Small businesses are incredibly valuable to our regional economy,” said Patrick Harrison, Committee of One Hundred president and a business owner himself. “This is a way for our group to give a really important break to a new small business or to help an existing business expand and hire additional employees. It’s good for the business, good for downtown, and good for the economy.”

Thirty-four different businesses participated in the year of Pop UP events. They ranged from current brick-and-mortar stores and restaurants to small home-based companies to newly created startups. The desire of these businesses to locate downtown and the welcome given them by downtown patrons is yet more proof that retail and downtown can be successful together.

Liz Swaine is the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. She can be reached at liz@downtownshreveport.com.


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