Bossier City sets out to revitalize portion of historic downtown
This time last year, Shreveport-Bossier was reveling in their victory of obtaining a new workforce of 800 jobs through the Computer Science Corporation (CSC) at the Cyber Innovation Center. But the well deserved celebration was short-lived as all concerned recognized that these new jobs so hard won would be manned by a millennial workforce the area is ill-equipped to attract and retain.
“When we were able to get CSC and this younger workforce, I think a lot of people started waking up and said ‘Where are they going to go? Where are they going to live? Where are they going to play? What is there to do?’” said Pam Glorioso, project manager for Bossier City. “We know the new workforce coming in will have longevity (in the technology field). We want a place that is enticing and welcoming to them.”
Bossier City investigated this age group and the resources at their disposal. They realized that in old downtown Bossier, they have a section of their city waiting to be turned into a buzzing, technologically equipped hub for this workforce’s professional and personal lives. And the Old Bossier Reinvisioning Plan was born.
Old Bossier, defined as the area from Traffic Street to Hamilton Road, will see upgrades to and building of new infrastructure such as water, sewer, and streets while adding the technology infrastructure that is missing. The project is expected to see dirt turning early 2016.
“We have a lot of work to do not only cosmetically, but with the infrastructure — you have to make sure the bones are there,” admitted Glorioso.
Research shows that the Millennial generation wants a live/work/play space, this includes mixed use developments, high walkability and bikeability scores, parks and open areas, and overall vibrant environments. All of which are lacking in Shreveport-Bossier.
“We don’t have that type of space in our community,” Vice President of the Cyber Innovation Center G.B. Cazes said point blank.
But he noted that old downtown Bossier City is a great location for this type of environment — proximity to the Louisiana Boardwalk, Red River, and entertainment.
“It gives us a blank canvas from which to work.”
He explained that development of old downtown will support the workforce necessary to staff CSC and other knowledge based businesses as well as creating another economic engine fueled by entrepreneurs and startups.
“If we want to attract these types of workers, then we must have these types of developments,” said Cazes.
The city is aware of this and is taking the philosophy of live/work/play when it comes to the redevelopment. This plan would include coffee shops, restaurants, a grocery store, new living quarters, better use of green space, and entertainment venues such as an open amphitheater.
“Our plan is to take assets already in place — Flying Heart Brewing, L’Italiano restaurant, the Bossier Council on Aging building, the Bossier Arts Council, antique shops and small businesses scattered throughout — and cull some of the old out, and build new structures in between,” said Glorioso.
But all of that is business growth is moot without having a strong tech infrastructure to serve as the backbone of this new business incubator.
“Technology infrastructure is critical — it touches every aspect of our daily lives and the younger you are, the more connected and dependent you appear to be,” said Cazes.
Glorioso puts it a little more bluntly: “In today’s age, if you don’t have Internet and wifi capabilities, the younger generation we’re trying to attract won’t come here.”
To install this new technological backbone, the city has a utility easement and is working from a grid plan that has remained unchanged for decades, which allows them to conveniently update current water, sewer and city streets and install new tech infrastructure all at the same time.
“As we would do the infrastructure for sewer, water, and streets, we would also lay the fiber optic line or high speed Internet and wifi capabilities,” said Glorioso.
This isn’t the first time the City of Bossier City has gone down this road. In 2002, the city was aggressive in attempting to move Bossier Parish Community College to Old Bossier, and at that time authorized property purchases. How that benefits the city’s current plan is it allows them pockets from which to work on accomplishing the current Reinvisioning Plan. Adding to the ability to gain acreage to rework is the Bossier Parish Police Jury and Bossier Parish School Board also own several pieces of property and are on board with the city’s goal. The project is about as fast-tracked as it can be — Glorioso has already began approaching the owners of city-owned properties and begun title work to purchase them.
“If we use those plots and work from them, we can close gaps and own entire blocks,” Glorioso said.
When it comes to redeveloping roads, Barksdale Boulevard is the major thoroughfare running through Old Bossier, but is part of U.S. Highway 71. In order to easily redevelop this street to fit their ideal for the project, the city has asked Louisiana for that piece of land to be given to the city under a state program called Right-Sizing. This program works by having the state project maintenance and upgrade costs for a piece of road for the next 20 years, then give that piece of road and money for projected costs to a local entity. In this case, Louisiana would donate the section of Barksdale Boulevard running through Old Bossier to Bossier City with money totaling the state’s projected costs for upgrade and maintenance, which the city would then turn around and use to redevelop the street to as a major artery fitting their vision for a renewed Old Bossier.
“The state wants to get out of the business of maintenance, so they love the idea. If it’s state owned, we would have to jump through a lot of hoops to do what we want with the road, but if it’s city owned, we can just do it,” Glorioso said.
And added bonus is the new infrastructure and redevelopment will not only be great for millennials and tech companies, but other businesses in various sectors will reap the benefits.
“When all is said and done, it’s going to help the mom and pop shops that are there, it’s going to bring in more small businesses. Large businesses are great, they bring in 100 jobs, but if we can bring in 10 businesses that hire 8 to 10 people, that’s great too. Those people are putting people to work selling goods and services that you need,” said Glorioso.
“Innovative, progressive leadership continues to transform Bossier City/Parish as a great place to live, work, and play that makes out community an attractive place to do business,” applauded Cazes.
This story originally appeared in the March edition of BIZ. Magazine. See www.bizmagsb.com for more.