The Benton boom is coming.
Development is moving north and east because there’s nowhere else for it to go in Bossier, according to Carlotta Askew-Brown with the Bossier City-Parish Metropolitan Planning Commission (MPC). Benton is already seeing an increase in rural developments, but commercial development will take off when Willis-Knighton Health System develops the vacant Palmetto Country Club property.
“Once Willis-Knighton actually develops, it’s going to explode Benton,” Askew-Brown said. “They don’t know when they’re going to develop. Their zoning isn’t complete yet. But when they do, they are going to bring in subsidiaries to support them. Benton will need a lot of things they don’t already have.”
Palmetto Country Club ceased operations on Dec. 31, 2014. Willis-Knighton President & CEO James K. Elrod confirmed the purchase of the property last spring, stating that it will be used to address the health needs of the growing north Bossier community.
Willis-Knighton plans to preserve the 155-acre park-like property with an expansive green space around the perimeter, featuring benches and a walking trail. A KTBS report last month says that Willis-Knighton “has already started with upkeep of the country club property and will work on a complete facelift of the clubhouse in the summer.” The report also says Willis-Knighton will present their plan to the Bossier Police Jury during a public hearing in early March.
The Bossier Press-Tribune reached out to Willis-Knighton for confirmation, but calls were not returned by press time.
Askew-Brown said there will come a time when they will need to do a comprehensive plan for Benton, updating the one done about 30 years ago.
“It will show us where to put our commercial growth and where we put our residential growth,” she explained. “That way when people come in, we can tell them where they need to go. I can see that happening for Benton in the near future.”
Askew-Brown also said that residential permits doubled from 2015 to 2016 in Benton. The biggest commercial permit received is for the Willis-Knighton property.
“As soon as all that is built out, you’ll for sure see commercial growth head that way. It’s bound to happen,” Askew-Brown said.
Bossier Schools is moving forward with plans to address the growth in Benton. Both the middle school and high school are over capacity and temporary buildings have been brought in to alleviate it for now.
The plan is to build a new 1,450 student high school on 70 acres just north of Kingston Elementary. The new school will hold about 400 more students than what is currently enrolled at the high school and the campus plan provides for expansion to accommodate 1,650 students.
Keith Norwood, Supervisor of Planning and Construction for Bossier Schools, said there will be over a quarter mile of space between the new Benton High School and Kingston Elementary. Results from a traffic impact study have not yet been released, but it will show them what they need to address during peak traffic times.
Norwood said they are in the preliminary design phase now and they expect the project to go out for bids in early summer. The new Benton High School will open in 2019.
Benton Middle School will then expand and utilize the existing high school buildings. The combined campus will meet the prototype enrollment of 1,500 students.