In May 2005, Bossier City invested $36 million into a forward-thinking attraction aimed at improving quality of life in northwest Louisiana and luring more tourists to showcase what Shreveport-Bossier has to offer. That investment was the Louisiana Boardwalk. Various stores, restaurants, attractions and even property owners have come and gone, but the all-in-one retail-dining-entertainment center on the edge of the Red River has had a staying power that pays dividends to local entities and boosts our area’s overall image.
“Not only has it been a commercial success, but it’s been a success for our city in terms of sales tax revenue that is very important for a our General Fund [Ed.’s note: which averages $5.7 million, according to Bossier City Information Officer Mark Natale],” said Bossier City Mayor Lorenz “Lo” Walker.
“Recent research showed that in 2012 and 2013 it was the number one activity for visitors who aren’t coming for gaming, and even those who came for gaming, half still went to the Boardwalk,” said Stacy Brown, president of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau.
Devised by local developer John Good, the city signed on to the $190 million project in 2000 when Walker, Chief Administrative Officer for the city at the time, and then Mayor George Dement supported it despite a cautious city council. Walker said they changed their tune after flying out to California to see a similar operation that was the complete model for the planned development in Bossier. The second hurdle was help from the Red River Waterway Commission in the form of $5 million that would allow the banks to be developed for the open-air shopping center. But after the city utilized taxpayer money for a parking garage and necessary infrastructure upgrades and the center was finished, Walker said it was “everything we hoped it would be.”
Pam Glorioso, Bossier City project coordinator, remembered the grand opening and the rush as hundreds of people worked up to the minute to make the deadline to cut the ribbon.
“I remember watching the faces and the reactions of people as they entered the public plaza area near the water feature, they were shocked with the beauty of the project. Everyone from the developers to the city officials was smiling from ear to ear with the opening of the project,” Glorioso shared. “The next day was the official Grand Opening to the public and this event proved to be the highlight of the project. Hundreds of people were in attendance and better yet, hundreds of people were there to shop! I recall looking down from the fourth-floor balcony with Kyle Rodriguez, the marketing director for the project, and watching the people come and especially watching the number of shopping bags that were leaving. This was our sign that the Boardwalk was going to be a success and would become an vital asset to Bossier City and the community as the new lifestyle center and community meeting place.”
Brown, who began her career with the Convention and Tourist Bureau in 1994, has a unique perspective of watching the market grow and develop more and more, adding that everything in the tourist industry tends to “build upon one another.” She said at the time of its conception, there was no doubt in her mind that the Boardwalk would be a hit.
“As someone who travels to conferences out of town, I often go shopping. And with that experience, I can tell you having the Boardwalk so close to other hotels and the convention center is a key to its success. For people who are staying near downtown or other attractions, it’s very easy to shop and dine,” Brown said.
Brown said the Boardwalk is a “tremendous addition” for visitors, the value being the shopping destination becomes just that — a true destination.
“The importance to the gaming can be really seen in other markets. Tunica has seen decline, Indian casinos in Oklahoma have a limit on length of stay of the visitor. By having the gaming and strong non-gaming component, we have the best of both worlds. It gives them another reason to come back to our market,” said Brown.
The center has gone through several changes in its 10 years. Developer and initial operators the Good Company sold the Boardwalk, which eventually came under hard times when O&S Holdings defaulted on a $128 million mortgage and lenders took control of the property because no bidders came forward at a foreclosure auction in 2011 when it was under Bayer Properties’ management. J. E. Robert Co. then bought the property for $80 million at a Bossier Sheriff’s sale. The Boardwalk was eventually sold to New York firm Garrison Investment Group in 2013. The owners then rebranded the open air shopping center as Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets with a new focus as an outlet center that still retained chain restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings and entertainment draws such as the Regal Cinema 13 movie theatre.
“It’s had some growing pains like any shopping center has, but now the Outlets are transitioning the stores to fit their model. They’re slowly doing that and I think it’s a complete success,” said Walker.
Request for comment about the current viability and future of Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets from current management was not returned in time for BIZ. Magazine’s deadline. But the property’s major anchor tenant since the Boardwalk’s inception, the Bass Pro Shop, said they have seen solid sales since 2005 and don’t see it slowing down.
“We’ve thoroughly enjoyed this market, it’s a great market for us and a great fit for the outdoor enthusiast customer base here,” said Bass Pro Shop General Manager Don Levis. “We see nothing but promise in the future. We’ve been encouraged to hear about new businesses opening, that’s great for the Boardwalk and what’s great for the Boardwalk is great for us.”
It’s a sentiment that is shared by local officials. Brown noted the Boardwalk’s growth and evolution with the success of the Courtyard Hotel at the Boardwalk, and their latest neighbor —Margaritaville Resort and Casino — seeing a boost from its close proximity to the shopping mecca.
“Visitors want to do more than one thing, so if you make it easier to get around they will go,” Brown noted.
“It has done all sorts of things that lends itself to being a permanent fixture and complements things we’re hoping to do to upgrade Old Bossier. I look forward to it being here for quite a while, yet,” said Walker.
This story was originally published in the May edition of BIZ. Magazine