As we move into a new decade, there are more questions than answers for Shreveport. The past decade could arguably be defined by stagnation as the Haynesville Shale declined, a mini-oil crash, and effects from the Great Recession all slapped northwest Louisiana throughout the 2010s.
To say there was no progress would be shortsighted — new companies such as Glovis American moving into the area, success at the Port of Caddo/Bossier, an uptick in the Haynesville Shale, and a recovering oil industry all contributed to see the area essentially break even from losses earlier in the decade.
Plus, the City of Shreveport elected its first African American female mayor in Ollie Tyler and then took another progressive step in electing Adrian Perkins, a young mayor with big ideas on how to improve the city.
But looking ahead, there is still a hangover from the past decade. We don’t have to look very far to see some high-stakes issues that could start a new era for, or alternatively cripple, Shreveport depending on how they are resolved.
First up is the development of the Cross Bayou area. Gateway Development Consortium popped up in 2018 with a $1 billion plan to redevelop the area along the riverfront, creating a live/work/play district complete with a state office building and criminal justice complex.
Since it was first announced, the project has been under the microscope and questions abound about the development’s feasibility.
GDC wants the city to assemble 88 acres in the Cross Bayou corridor — classified as a Brownfield site, meaning it will need to be remediated before any work can begin — and then donate the land to the project. But there are concerns about what the city’s financial responsibility would be with the development regarding maintenance and remediation of the land. The land is divided among more than a dozen owners. So, how can the city get the land, or get the money for the land? Can the city then legally donate the property? Can Brownfield site moneys be utilized by a private venture?
GDC partners say that Gov. John Bel Edwards has expressed interest in locating a state office building in the development, but there has been no commitment. Likewise, Caddo DA James Stewart has not committed to a criminal justice complex.
Positive news is that GDC has a partner for their planned STEM school and the USL would bring a soccer team to anchor the proposed sports complex in the development.
But, how and when these questions are answered will either propel the Cross Bayou Point project, which is Shreveport’s chance for a major win, forward or kill it altogether.
Quality of life issues also linger on with no solution after voters rejected three proposed bond issues in November. The $186 million 2019 general obligation bond proposal would have been used for water and sewer upgrades, repairs to the Shreveport Police Department headquarters, and streets and drainage improvements.
Although the bonds would not have meant more taxes, it was a renewal, voters narrowly voted them down, with only a margin of 4% being the largest and a mere 50 votes as the smallest.
Despite numerous community presentations by the city and support from numerous organizations such as the Greater Shreveport and Shreveport-Bossier African American Chambers of Commerce, the Committee of One Hundred, and the Strategic Action Council, the voters had their say.
The Shreveport Police Officers Association did not support the bond, saying pay increases are more important. Some political observers believe that the failure was due to $36 million being removed for economic development, while others think the proposal was too sudden.
This means the aging SPD HQ on Texas Avenue will still have poor air conditioning, mold, and faulty plumbing. And, the streets I see being ridiculed by locals on Facebook will remain scarred with potholes.
How will the city go about getting the revenue to solve these issues? What about other necessary upgrades and improvements to infrastructure?
There’s also uncertainty over the mandated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent decree for the repair of aging water and sewer lines. The city is unhappy with $400M worth of work done by the current contractor to meet the hard deadline set by the consent decree. The Perkins Administration is also making it a priority to get a handle on the spiraling costs caused by the consent decree.
These are just a few of the issues I see as most pressing. As is the case with most things in life, the solutions to them are not easy. They’re not quick. And, they’re probably not going to win people over or make a lot of friends. But they have to be resolved.
Citizens have made their position known on where they stand when it comes to paying for solutions. Developers have big ideas, but nothing to show for it. Mayor Perkins has a host of problems to wrangle.
If the business community organizations’ public support of the bond issue was any indication, hopefully they can be allowed to sit at the table and give input. The ones I know personally are eager to do so. We need them. We need all of us. Because how we answer these questions may determine the next decade for our area.
SEAN GREEN | EDITOR & PUBLISHER OF BIZ. MAGAZINE