Thursday, July 25, 2024

Creating a new hope for Shreveport

by BIZ. Staff

Is proposed $1B development for Cross Bayou a game changer for Shreveport?

“We’re trying to create hope,” said local businessman Paul Pratt.

A life-long Shreveport resident, he has a real love for his city. And he has a sense of urgency as he feels it is stagnating and in desperate need of new blood.

“If we don’t change, we will die,” Pratt said starkly. “GM isn’t coming back. Elio Motors isn’t going to save us. Our talent is leaving, we’ve got to do something to get people to move back here.”

His plan is an ambitious 10-year, $1 billon waterfront development of Cross Bayou and Ledbetter Heights. Called “Cross Bayou Point,” the development would see a sports complex, municipal complex to replace the aging state building on Fairfield Avenue, a technology-based charter school, a 5,000-unit housing development, and mixed-use development.

“I’ve been here all my life, I’ve seen the changes and challenges of Shreveport,” said Pratt, whose day job is director of government relations for Chesapeake Energy. “Over the years, most of the guys in this partnership have talked in some fashion about what it would take for our city to go to the next level. We see how things are done in other cities and we started talking about Cross Bayou years ago.”

That partnership Pratt mentions is a group of local principals calling themselves Gateway Downtown Consortium. Members include Rev. Theron Jackson, pastor of Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church and a former Shreveport City Council member; and Curtis Joseph, a lawyer. They have partnered infrastructure developer AirRail and real estate developer Janus Property, both of New York City.

“We don’t know it all, we have developers for that. But we do know Shreveport,” Pratt promised. “We have a big developer out of New York and people are questioning why they would come to Shreveport and it’s because they’re out of land. We’ve got the land, they’ve got the money.”

Digging a little deeper, the plan is to create districts — government, residential, business, entertainment and recreation, and education — themed around the anchor portions of the development.

“It’s density,” Pratt explained. “When you have that, you will have opportunity — people living downtown, walking and biking to the businesses and restaurants there, and that will attract other businesses.”

Paul Pratt

Sports and entertainment venues are becoming popular anchors for mixed-use developments in cities because they bring tens of thousands of people to an area to shop, dine, and play.

“There’s a phenomenon of cities building a sports complex with multi-use developments that will attract parents of younger children,” said Pratt.

He said his group has not held talks with the Pelicans to secure them as the arena’s anchor tenant. But he was optimistic that if they design a plan with their team in mind, they would come. Although, he noted that it wouldn’t derail the development if they declined, saying youth and college sports would utilize the facility.

In that vein, many of these sports and mixed use developments also include housing options for single professionals and families because of the ease of commuting to jobs, restaurants, stores, museums and more.

“We want to create a new downtown economic engine. Downtowns are the epicenter of commerce and smart cities are creating downtowns like that,” Pratt said.

The 5,000 units of housing seeks to transform the area and create a true community with dwellings for various income levels.

“We will make sure Shreveporters are first to be involved, and we want all people to participate. This is not just for high wage earners.”

The charter school, which has a letter of interest from a Los Angeles organization, would include a school for apprenticeship to help generate the workforce that would fill this development.

“We want an educational component that will train citizens for today’s market,” Pratt said.

“People say about Shreveport that, ‘There are no jobs, all we have is crime.’ We want to put people to work. People who go to work don’t have time to commit crime.”

Pratt acknowledged the issue of contaminated soil at Cross Bayou, saying his group has the support of Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

“We will work with a consultant to develop a plan for cleaning up contaminated soil. We would take the responsibility of that.”

Crucial to the success of the plan is formation of a public-private partnership with local and state government. The Gateway Downtown Consortium wants a letter of intent signed by city government and, Pratt pledges, “then we’ll go to work raising the funds.”

He noted that this development doesn’t “need to be political,” but pointed out that it can’t be done by the city and parish alone because the tax base isn’t there.

He pledged that all his group needs from the city is support in the form of working with them to get the land and necessary infrastructure.

“They own the majority of the land. So we need them to lease or sell the land to us,” he explained. “We will ask the city to participate in [the upgrading and installing] of infrastructure, but we don’t know how much that is, yet.”

But he said that if support from local officials is obtained, they could be “shovel-ready within a week.”

The move comes only five months after Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler proposed using $30 million of the city’s riverfront development fund to build a 3,500-seat sports complex, anchored by the New Orleans Pelicans G-League minor basketball affiliate. The plan required $100 million private investment from Corporate Realty, an Alabama-based real estate company, for the remainder of the development. The city council voted down using the city’s money for the plan, stopping it in its tracks.

After Mayor Tyler unveiled her plan for the area, Pratt said the Gateway Downtown Consortium members thought the offer was too small.

“You need an anchor that’s more permanent than a sports arena,” he revealed. “We all said, ‘Let’s go for it.’ It’s important to the community to have new jobs and a new tax base.”

Pratt said his group has been very careful about who they have shown their presentation to, noting it has been seen by Mayor Tyler, the Shreveport Downtown Development Authority, and a select few Caddo Commissioners and Shreveport City Council members.

“The mayor was very supportive. She just wants to be very transparent and we will be,” he said. “We decided to release it to the press because our mayor was being criticized for meeting with people in private. We wanted to protect integrity of the mayor and our group.”

Currently, Pratt said there is “no money in the bank” for the plan, only a vision and piqued interest.

“We have to stop thinking negative and have dreams of ‘Let’s make it work,’” he said. “There will always be the naysayers, but people need to have faith.”

“This is long-term stuff.”

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