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Monday, June 22, 2015

The Rebirth of Shreveport

Businesses set up downtown as a new atmosphere ignites

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Downtown Shreveport is abuzz with a new energy these days – not only are the exciting events of the downtown venues in full force, the growth and renovation of the area is alive and bringing a sense of rebirth to the district.

The renovation of the Sears Building, renamed the Lofts@624, is one of the benchmarks for renewal and restoration for future projects. Life for those who will reside in the luxury apartments is said to be an electrifying life of urban convenience and high style, and the corner of Texas and Louisiana streets will never be the same.

Liz Swaine, executive director of the Shreveport Downtown Development Authority, has been key in making the Lofts@624 a reality.

"I think this opened up a whole new range of possibilities for us downtown. We have so many people who have expressed a desire over the last years to have a place to move downtown, and right now we have no room at the inn. Right now we have about 500 units, and about 80 percent of those units are what are called affordable housing units so you're salary limited," she said. "Some of those places are lovely, but people who can't quite make the affordable cut – they make a little bit more money – they still want to live in a cool, historic, urban setting. We haven't had that to offer to them, and this is going to allow us to reach out and grab those people who have lived in other cities, maybe when they were in college, or maybe have always aspired to [live downtown] but they couldn't."

City Councilman Jeff Everson, who serves as the project coordinator for the Lofts@624, said he believed in the success of the project before it had even truly been planned.

"When we started the project, a lot of people were skeptical about the demand for living downtown, but Liz wasn't, and I wasn't because we both had been around different projects downtown and a lot of people said they wanted to live downtown," Everson said. "It's has been really exciting to see the energy of the people who are looking to live there."

Not only will the Lofts@624 offer living, the community will also include an important retail component to invigorate the area.

"Roland von Kurnatowski, the developer [his company, Studio Network, is overseeing the project], is a very smart man. He knows that when you're putting people together in a building, there is a need for common space. Especially the millennials, they love hanging out in cool places," Swaine said. "The loft apartments are going to be wonderful for one or two people, but they're not going to be spacious enough to have a big gang over. So, where do you put them? How about a Rhino Coffee? That's where people go anyhow, that's where they gather, that's where they do their schoolwork, it's where a lot of business in the city is conducted. It just something that will attract not only the people who live in the building, but others who just want to come in and have coffee, have some sushi or take a yoga class."

Rhino Coffee has signed on to be one of the flagship retail spaces and will open a second location at the corner of the lofts.

Rhino Owner Andrew Crawford had been searching for a second site, and the Lofts@624 were a perfect fit.

"We have been looking to do a second location for a while because we are looking to roast our own coffee, and we don't have the capacity to do it in our current location," Crawford said. "Some people think I'm crazy, but I feel like I see the writing on the wall for downtown – it's rebuilding and thriving. We wanted to take the risk and jump in down there. We had looked at some other locations downtown, but the developer for the Lofts really was excited about the development, and wanted to see it do well. The energy he had really made us want to jump for it."

The quality of what the community has come to expect from a Rhino Coffee experience will transition to the new space, but customers can expect to see some exciting changes as well, including the possibility of an outdoor patio space.

"We will probably have the same menu. The only thing that is going to change is we are going to add some new stuff for downtown that we are working on right now. We are also looking to add a wine and beer component as well, and we are excited about that aspect. There's going to be some trial and error discovering what the needs are for the downtown community," Crawford said. "We are playing with discounts for the residents of the Lofts, we are playing with delivery, we have also tossed around the idea of having charge accounts and offer a discount then send a bill at the end of the month. We are trying to figure out different perks for the residents because they will be the first group that will hopefully support us. We are excited to be a part of such a great group."

In addition to Rhino Coffee, the Lofts@624 will also have a new opportunity to enjoy a South Louisiana chain in Rock-n- Sake Bar and Sushi.

"Rock-n-Sake is out of South Louisiana, and they are very fun. When we announced they had signed on, a lot of people [from South Louisiana] were really excited," Swaine said. "That is really due to the relationship with Roland, the developer. He had a relationship with the Rock-n-Sake people [and] said come up and take a look at Shreveport – why are you not here? He's been bringing a lot of people from South Louisiana that may be a franchise but may not have made it north of Baton Rouge. He's really been showing Shreveport off."

Everson said Roland von Kurnatowski has also been integral in bringing an entertainment component to the space.

"He's had the Tipitina's Foundation, and that's how Shreveport came to his attention. He's been familiar with the musical culture in Shreveport. Obviously Tipitina's in New Orleans is all about local music culture. In the Lofts@624, the basement is going to be a nod to Tipitina's," Everson said. "They will have a relationship and will share a booking agent with the Tipitina's in New Orleans, so they will bring in local talent as well as touring talent into a space that is a real cool New Orleans feel to it, as well as make it available for events and special uses. It's great it's in the basement because it's buffered by several levels so it mitigates any noise that may travel up the building."

Another business that has signed on to build a home downtown is Explore Yoga. The yoga studio will open its second location in the building as well.

Swaine said even if residents only visit the area for the new attractions, the experience in downtown is going to be the birth of a new look for Shreveport.

"It's going to be a different experience than anything else that is available downtown. That building is historic, but it will be historically modern. It will have the same beautiful bones that it was built with in the 1920s, but everything will be modern and up-to-date," Swaine said. "You will be in the middle of a city that is on the grow, just across the street from the Robinson Film Center, the next block up from artspace, one block over from Central ARTSTATION, the Emmett Hook Performing Center and the Strand Theatre. You're just in the heart of art and culture and the opportunity to really see Shreveport come alive."

More Information:

The Lofts@624 have a target to open later this year. For more information on the lofts, go to www.624lofts.com.

Go to www.rocknsake.com, for more information about Rock-N-Sake.

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