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Monday, Nov. 5, 2018

A Red River District Reboot


Businesses now fully occupied

Recently, the city of Shreveport, Downtown Development Authority and tenants of the Red River District threw a party to welcome people back. It was time, thought tenant Christi Johnson Ranger, to remind people of how clean, pretty and safe the district is and to tell the story of the small and local businesses that now call the space home.

It is quite a different place than it was 10 years ago. As I sat in that recent tenant meeting while Christi and others from the nine businesses who rent space under the Texas Street Bridge talked about ways to promote the district, I thought about just how far it has come.

In the early 2000s, the area was nothing but a large parking lot under the bridge, adjacent to the Expo Hall. It was not a place you would particularly want to be at night. It wasn’t dangerous, but it felt that way, hidden and dark.

Hollywood Casino, the precursor to Eldorado, was interested in working with the city of Shreveport on a place where visitors to the city would be able to eat, drink and enjoy, adjacent to but outside the four walls of the casino.

When the Red River District opened, it was populated by mostly chains with no ties and no long-term commitment to Shreveport. Over time that changed to businesses with strong connections that are run by people who live in our area, like Ranger. She owns Louisiana Specialty Gifts, a small store chock-full of Louisiana-themed items. Her year and a half in business has taught her a lot, and she can now mark “owning a business” off her bucket list.

Adjacent to Louisiana Specialty Gifts is Appli-K’s, a custom embroidery business. Owner Katy Rhodes had been a business owner before, running a home embroidery business that was slowly taking over all the space in her house. In 2014, Katy was chosen as a participant in Downtown Shreveport Development Corporation’s Pop-Up Project in the district, and her success during the pop-up earned her a year of free rent. It was a perfect match that Katy has extended beyond her first year. She was able to move her stock out of her living room and give her antiques-loving father an area to sell bits of his ample collection of pottery, photos and drill bits.

Similar stories can be told about all of the tenants in the district – Bon Temps Coffee House, Proud Mary 360 Grill, Artipsy, Fatty Arbuckle’s, Fully Stacked, Cohab and Nicky’s Mexican Restaurant. Bucket list businesses all, occasionally funded on a wing and a prayer with owners learning as they are going, all determined to make it work.

Because of their efforts, the Red River District is fully occupied. The city through Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation (SPAR) keeps it clean, attractive and safe. It is a fun place to be. Dogs are welcome at the many outdoor restaurant patios, and the tenants love to host events like Monday “steak on the grill night” at Fatty Arbuckle’s and Art Live competitions at Bon Temps Coffee House. It is a place that has finally found itself and its equilibrium and though small, offers a variety of options – food, beverage (adult and not), shopping and co-working office space. Though the “official” relaunch is over, I encourage you to stop by, walk through and give the space and its small and local businesses a second look.

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


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