Creating an artists’ live/work space
711 Milam Street sits between Crockett and Louisiana in downtown Shreveport. It is taller than its neighbors and is the focus of an intense restoration, renovation and rebirth as part of the area called Shreveport Common.
The structure was built in 1902 and was known as the Vordenbauman- Eastham Company building, according to Shreveport Common Executive Director Wendy Benscoter. In its later days, it housed Marcus Furniture Store for several years. Downtown visitors probably have noticed the fading UNEEDA Biscuit sign on the west facing brick, and that has become its new nickname.
The plan is to transform the longvacant structure into a creative live/work neighborhood, according to Benscoter, a place where artists can find affordable living and working space to practice their crafts.
Benscoter explained that area artists and creative professionals “will now have affordable and market value residential spaces that fit their creative and entrepreneurial needs, connect them with other artists and put them a block away from the Arts Resource Center located in Central Artstation, and new shared artist studios, to be opened in 2019. The Common Park, just two blocks west, will offer popup markets and programming opportunities, and a makerspace is expected to be up and running by 2020.”
Fairfield Properties and Brown Builders are developing the UNEEDA building. They launched the venture after a 2016 survey of Shreveport artists and creative professionals revealed that there was a need and that artists and professionals wanted to live and work in a shared community.
“Our city needs a space, a place, a community that is the place to experience something fun, new and exciting; an everchanging place where we know there will always be something unique, a gathering place that is for everyone,” Benscoter said.
Shreveport Regional Arts Council Executive Director Pam Atchison agreed. “I could just say, ‘We needa UNEEDA.’ We need a project that puts artists front and center of the downtown revitalization we call Shreveport Common. We are so thankful that Edward Taylor and Wayne Brown and his whole team are meeting the needs of community revitalizations. I firmly believe that when artists are living, working and playing, making their art and selling their art in the Shreveport Common area, then the kind of vitality, vibrancy, energy, the robust economy of Shreveport is going to be manifested in this nine-block area.”
Atchison said at the heart of the effort is getting artists permanently in the area. She noted that Taylor and Brown had involved artists from the beginning planning stages in determining how the development should evolve. The result is living workspace, studio space, and makerspace that will create a real sense of “community,” Atchison explained.
What’s unique about the project is that it is 50 percent affordable living and 50 percent market value. Brown said, “Half the apartments will have income restrictions on the residents. The other half will have no income restrictions.” The apartments will have 15-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, some will have lofts, all in a one-bedroom configuration of approximately 600 square feet. “We’re going to maintain the historical characteristics of the property,” Brown said. “We’ll have a rooftop deck – a gathering area, community area – and if you’ve got great views, which this building does, it’s a great draw.”
Drawing people is a significant factor of the Shreveport Common plan, according to Atchison. “I think that the fact that we’re not just looking at a building or a space, but we’re looking at a place that is nine blocks. What is important is to program it all the time. I think that the Arts Council with the Downtown Development Authority with the Wednesday night Art Walks are not just open for business, but we are programming for business.
“I believe that the reason that we are going to have sustainability is in the plethora of creative entrepreneurs that are developing Shreveport Common, the arts that are going to be producing the product for Shreveport Common and the partners, the Arts Council, the Shreveport Commons board of directors, DDA, nonprofits, we’re all programming, big time, in the area. The goal is that ultimately, we will have created not a building, but a neighborhood – a place – ‘to stumble upon the fun.’” Benscoter noted, “This project is one more step forward in creating a place in Shreveport where everyone is welcome, a place that’s not quite like anyplace else, a place to bring family and friends to happen upon the fun. Our city needs a space, a place, a community that is the place to experience something fun, new and exciting; an everchanging place where we know there will always be something unique, a gathering place that is for everyone. That is what Shreveport Common is: an ‘uncommon’ community.”
The project is scheduled for completion at the end of 2019 or first quarter of 2020.
– Joe Todaro