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Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018

DOWNTOWN CHANGE

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Shreveport looks different after three decades

Happy 30th birthday, Forum! Your birth year, 1988, was an interesting one. Ronald Reagan was president then, and though they were cantankerous, the Congress, led by Rep. Jim Wright of Texas and Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, managed to reach across the aisle from time to time to get things done.

Edwin Edwards (of course) was governor of Louisiana, but in March 1988, he turned the office over to fresh-faced North Louisiana newcomer Buddy Roemer. 1988 was the year Microsoft released Windows 2.1, Michael Dukakis (remember him?) was chosen as the Democratic nominee for president, Wrigley Field lit up at night for the first time ever, and George H.W. Bush was elected our 41st president.

While all that was playing out on the national scene, Shreveport saw changes in downtown. Mayor John Hussey was coming to the end of his eight years as Shreveport mayor, and in 1990 would be followed by Hazel Beard, who would pull off a two-fer as the city’s first woman – and first Republican – in modern times.

The 1980s and ‘90s were devastating on downtowns across the country – residential had already taken flight to the suburbs, and businesses were following. The traditional urban cores were hollowing out; historic buildings were being leveled for parking or falling to the ground from neglect; the “feel” of mostly-vacant downtowns was sketchy at best, frightening at worst. Mayor Beard launched several bold downtown initiatives – teaming with the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC) to bathe the Texas Street Bridge in neon, focusing on downtown riverfront development, and initiating major sidewalk infrastructure improvements dubbed “Streetscape.”

During the latter part of her single fouryear term, the Louisiana Legislature approved limited licenses for riverboat gaming that would affect downtown’s riverfront in a big way. Decisions were made to give Harrah’s gambling exclusivity on the Shreveport riverfront, a decision that would be debated, second-guessed and ultimately, overturned. Six years later in 2000 with the exclusivity contract gone, then-Hollywood Casino opened the doors on a $230 million destination resort downtown. Hollywood also partnered with the city of Shreveport to create a grouping of shops and restaurants under the Texas Street Bridge that would be called the Red River District. The district would join Sci-Port: Louisiana’s Discovery Center, which had recently moved from temporary digs on Commerce Street to its city-owned facility on the Clyde Fant Parkway.

An eight-acre site known to locals as “the hole” became Festival Plaza in 1998 under the administration of Mayor “Bo” Williams, and the Red River Revel and other festivals that used to spill out onto the parkway were given a permanent home. Mayor Keith Hightower fronted a 1999 bond issue to build the Shreveport Convention Center and hotel, a project that would be finished in 2007 and create 350,000 square feet for conventions and meetings in downtown Shreveport.

That project freed up the old Expo Hall for the burgeoning north Louisiana movie industry. Mayor Hightower also worked with DDA to bring City Hall downtown, where Caddo Parish, the city of Shreveport and the Caddo Parish Sheriff’s Office all agreed to co-locate in Government Plaza. As all this was happening, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Downtown Shreveport Development Corporation (DSDC) were working to create the West Edge, an art and culture district that found early successes with artspace, a DDA/DSDC partnership with SRAC and Robinson Film Center, a DDA/DSDC undertaking with the Red River Film Society. At the same time, DSDC was working with real estate firm HRI to rehab the old Lee Hardware and United Jewelers buildings for residential, the first significant downtown apartment developments since the 1940s. Other significant happenings include:

2000: Millennium Mural painted on the AT&T building becomes the largest public art mural in the nation.

2005: Louisiana creates State Historic Commercial Tax Credits, spurring historical rehab.

2010: Mayor Cedric Glover launches Shreveport Common Cultural District.

2012: Ogilvie Hardware Lofts open; 100 percent occupied with a waiting list.

2013: Renovations begin on Lofts @ 624 (old Sears Building) apartments and commercial space.

2014: Municipal Auditorium reopens after significant upgrades; becomes a preferred venue for multiple big artists.

2017: Shreveport Aquarium Opens.

2018: 509 Market, 401 Spring, 711 Milam and numerous smaller buildings are purchased to be rehabilitated for residential and commercial uses.

2018: Common Park funded. Downtown Shreveport is a much different place than it was even 30 years ago. Though not without challenges, the future for our historic city center looks bright.

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

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