By Donecia Pea
Some say the heart of a city lies in its downtown area.
However, that saying is easily debate-able when it comes to a place like Bossier City. Over the last two decades, the city’s biggest commercial and residential development and roadway improvements have occurred in areas outside of the downtown area, such as the Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets along the riverfront, the CenturyLink Center near the city’s southeast corner and the riverboat casinos.
But all of that changed with a city council vote in July 2014 and over the next decade, local residents could see one of the area’s biggest transformations yet — a revitalized downtown Bossier City. The plan is officially called Bossier City Downtown Re-envisioning, but for those working tirelessly behind the scenes to make the project a reality, it’s an opportunity to leave a lasting legacy to the city they love.
In The Beginning
Today, when you take the Traffic Street exit off of Interstate 20 and head down Barksdale Boulevard into the heart of downtown Bossier City, you catch a glimpse of the city’s older buildings and historical structures, mostly one-story and two-story buildings. Some house a smattering of businesses, from longtime staples like L’Italiano’s Italian restaurant and East Bank Theatre, to newcomers like Flying Heart Brewing.
Other buildings simply sit empty. Bossier City Mayor Lo Walker has made revitalizing the downtown area his mantra ever since he first ran for mayor some 26 years ago.
“I didn’t win the first time, but that was always in my vision to develop downtown Bossier,” Walker said. “So, when I ran for mayor the second time, I did win and was able over the years to have the opportunity to do it.”
After some starts and stops, Walker said they finally were able to begin capitalizing on the opportunity with the opening of Flying Heart, the city’s first brewery and only the second brewery in the Shreveport-Bossier City area.
In addition, the need to make over the area became more urgent with last year’s announcement of the Computer Science Corporation’s plans to open a technology center at Cyber Innovation Center’s national Cyber Research Park and bring 800 new jobs.
“As we transition to a cyber community, in order to attract the sort of workforce we need, we need a community that is compatible with that,” Walker said. “We finally decided to quit sucking the bullet and take a bite.”
In the summer of 2014, the city council first authorized the use of $15 million in bond money toward the downtown revitalization project and the rest is history.
Something Old Meets Something New
So, just what does this new downtown look like? Picture a modern-day town center with Barksdale Boulevard as the main street where people can come to live, work or play.
At the core of this center will be a rectangular plaza — a large multi-use, green space ideal for outdoor festivals, concerts, games and other events. Three sides of the plaza will be flanked by four-story and five-story mixed-use buildings that will feature a variety of independent retail businesses and small shops on the first floor and residential apartments above.
Structures behind that area will feature two-story and three-story multi-family homes, similar to brownstones seen in major cities like New York City and Atlanta. Then, outside of that area will feature single-family bungalow-style homes. All of these structures will be within walking distance from the town center. Plus, the area will include innovative streetscape features, such as separate, individual lanes for bikers and pedestrians, redesigned roadways and more.
Phase One of the effort is projected to be completed in the next three to five years, while the full revitalization could take up to 15 years.
But don’t expect this to be a complete overhaul of the traditional downtown area.
“(Downtown Bossier City) has a lot of unique brick buildings and storefronts from the 1920s and ‘30s. Some of them need some love, but they have good bones and we want to hold on to that. We feel like we can have a richer design by including some of the old and the new,” said Mike McSwain, who was brought in during the summer of 2014 as the lead architect on the revitalization project and developed the master plan.
McSwain heads an internationally recognized team that includes his firm, Mike McSwain Architect, LLC and co-planner and frequent collaborative partner SKS Studios, a landscape architecture and planning firm.
McSwain said the master plan was based on extensive research, which included closely visiting and observing downtown areas across the country, as well as polling millennials and older adults in Shreveport-Bossier City area’s innovative and technologically-driven centers and campuses like the CSC, Moonbot Studios and Cohab, Louisiana Tech University and Bossier Parish Community College.
“We asked a lot of people what kinds of things they would be looking for in a town and the overwhelming response was ‘something different that’s not already here’… We want this to be a place that feels exciting,” he said.
While they’ve designed projects all over the world, for McSwain this project is personal.
“It’s one of those projects that lives beyond me,” he said. “I’ve done so many projects — the Shreveport Convention Center, the airport, BPCC, Sci-Port, fire stations, libraries. But this is one project we’re trying to lay the groundwork to where it lives beyond us for many years and generations to come and that’s exciting” he said. “It’s like there’s this legacy that I get to be a part of, and I love that.”
He especially gives credit to the enthusiasm for the project coming from the city leadership as well as the community.
“This is one of the first master plans I’ve been involved in that’s got so much excitement from the community and the leadership to keep going and not just letting it sit on the shelf and forgetting about it,” McSwain said. “A lot of people are wanting to keep this going and I feel tickled to be a part of it.”
See the complete Master Plan for Bossier City Downtown Re-envisioning at www.bossiercity.org.