Note: This is the third in a series of articles on city redevelopments in Louisiana. Read this article for specifics on Shreveport and then read this article covering the recent updates to Hammond, La’s bustling downtown area and this article to hear about Lake Charles.
Situated on the banks of the Red River in northwest Louisiana, Shreveport has long been the heart of regional commerce and government. But in the last 15 years, the city’s downtown has also become an enviable place to live, shop, dine, open a small business and enjoy a robust arts scene.
Home to 1,685 different businesses with more than 11,000 employees, downtown pulses with energy during the week. On weekends, numerous community events attract families, individuals and young professionals by the thousands. Every Saturday, rain or shine, about 10,000 patrons visit the Shreveport Farmers’ Market. Scores of others file in to enjoy dining, local breweries, arthouse films, fine arts exhibitions, gaming and community festivals.
The arts have been a central strategy in Shreveport’s downtown restoration, says Liz Swain, executive director of the Shreveport Downtown Development Authority. In the late nineties, the DDA bought and later rehabilitated a key property at 708 Texas Avenue, located a few blocks from the river in the heart of downtown. It was accomplished in part with help from Louisiana’s Historic Tax Credit program.
The DDA partnered with the Shreveport Regional Arts Council to install programming in the building, which now houses art space, an interactive community gallery where poetry readings, concerts, fine art exhibitions and more take place.
“We felt like creating a strong arts scene would help start a buzz and increase foot traffic in downtown,” says Swain.
Swain says that one of downtown Shreveport’s enduring assets is its number of historic buildings, which stems back to the 1920s, when many residents of northern Caddo Parish struck oil.
“All that wealth created a ‘Golden Age of Construction’ in downtown Shreveport,” she says.
But as downtown retail and residential investment ebbed in the latter twentieth century, many of the historic buildings fell into disrepair. Many sat dormant, but that changed after the state enabled investors to earn tax credits for rehabilitating historic properties.
“The thing that sparked the first resurgence of our downtown was the historic tax credit program,” says Liz Swain. “It was especially big for downtown Shreveport because so many historic buildings still existed.”
The historic tax credits projects led to a wave of additional private investment, says Swain.
“We’ve had seven buildings take advantage of the credits, but seen a multiplier effect of 17 more buildings also being completely rehabbed,” she said.
Creating a downtown brand centered on the arts has been a primary objective for the Shreveport DDA. In another historic tax credit project, the DDA partnered with the Red River Film Society to transform the space at 617 Texas Street into the Robinson Film Center, which screens independent and arthouse films. Across the street is the Southern University Museum of Art, which holds many works by African American artists. These entities, along with artspace, create a lively two-block arts district.
Meanwhile, around the corner, the arts unfold in other exciting ways. The Shreveport Regional Arts Council is now housed in the rehabilitated 1922 Central Fire Station where more than 65% of the building is devoted to artists, performers and the community. Outside the building sits the illuminated Art the Giant Dalmatian sculpture, a massive nod to the firehouse dog. The sculpture was designed by Shreveport-based Academy Award winners William Joyce and Branden Oldenburg, founders of the former Moonbot Studios.
Downtown Shreveport is also home to the 1925 Strand Theatre, the official state theatre of Louisiana, and Shreveport Common, a new arts and culture district underway in a formerly blighted nine-block area.
Growth in the downtown arts scene has sparked additional investment in downtown Shreveport, including restaurants, coffee shops, satellite classrooms for higher education institutions, salons and other small business, says Swain.
Growing the number of residential developments is currently a main objective of the DDA. In 2010, there were only about 500 residential units downtown and 80% of those were affordable housing, says Swain. Since then, more investment has taken place, including new loft apartments and modern condos with vintage touches. Still, more opportunities exist, Swain says.
“Growth in downtown Shreveport has been deliberately incremental, with an eye toward sustainability,” Swain says. “We want it to continue to grow as a community and have people care about it as a neighborhood.”
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