In 2009, following the devastating fire at Shreveport Regional Arts Council’s building in downtown, SRAC acquired and renovated the old Central Fire Station (dedicated in 1922) on Crockett Street at Common Street. With that gift from the city came an edict from Mayor Cedric Glover that SRAC help organize and spearhead an effort to revitalize the west edge of downtown along Texas Avenue. This project became known as Shreveport Common – a reference both to Common Street as well as the noun common meaning “shared space”.
In 2012, the Shreveport Common idea was spun off into its own organization which would be an advocate and gathering point for development and revitalization of the 9-block area. Numerous projects have been a part of the vision efforts – from upgrades to the promenade along Elvis Presley Avenue in front of the Municipal auditorium to early dog park plans and visions of mixed-use business and residential developments. Many hundreds of stakeholders in meetings over years worked to build a plan based on the principles of creative placemaking (read our article about that here) and revitalization of culture and community in the neighborhood.
The anchor, however, has always been Common Park. The aim was to create a space that the community could gather and that would be near retail and residential space that was walkable and right-sized for the area it would be built. Through the years its plans have undergone many changes and have faced critical funding challenges (the original proposed budget was a daunting $3.5 million) which have prevented the park from entering development and consequently has lead to the underutilization of the space.
In May of 2015, some members of Heliopolis championed an effort to encourage the Caddo Parish Commission to provide matching funds to encourage private donations to the construction of the park. The Commission largely agreed and allocated the matching funds, but the private donations weren’t rolling in and little visible progress was being made. It was incredibly frustrating to be so close and yet so far.
In the years since the land was acquired for Common Park, the space has played host to The Bike Container, a part-time co-op that teaches bike repair and ownership, as well as being a vendor space during the Texas Avenue Makers’ Fair. However, it’s mostly just been a slab of concrete – or several slabs of concrete with green paint – for years.
Over the last 18 months, ReForm Shreveport (of which I am a member) has been encouraging the Shreveport Common board and administration to push forward with a more modest version of the park – a standard model as it were – upon which the community can build in the future. The goal was to get the park “to grass” as we called it, as quickly as possible. The city had already promised to demolish the concrete and get the park to dirt, but the site needed to be inspected to satisfy EPA standards and engage in possible environmental remediation efforts to make sure the land would be suitable for the purpose of being a park.
Now, the city has announced that it is going to use $1.2 million in funds left over from an Economic Development Administration grant to perform those necessary steps to bring the park to stage one – demolition of the concrete slabs, mitigation for the EPA, grading and shaping of the land, plants, walking path, shaded seating area, and food truck hookups. These are the things the park needs in order to begin seeing real use as a public space. The city council must approve the mayor’s request to reallocate the funds with a vote, which should take place Tuesday, May 22nd.
The Caddo Commission’s matching grant is still in effect and is only applicable to matching private dollars. Sandi and Jeffery Kallenberg have committed to a donation and the Give For Good raised funds will be matched as well.
Shreveport needs a downtown park – one that is adjacent to the arts and culture center with the cornerstone of Shreveport’s Municipal Auditorium joined by The Strand Theatre, Robinson Film Center, minicine, Artspace, Tipitina’s Music Co-Op, Emmett Hook Performing Arts Center and the numerous local shops and restaurants creeping their way west from the 8-by-8 blocks that are the original downtown.
This process of demolition is expected to begin later this summer but, in the meantime, Shreveport Common will push forward with its collaboration with ReForm Shreveport to build a small “parklet” across the street where people can sit, eat, and watch the construction of Common Park – a spectacle that has long since been desired and needed to encourage redevelopment of nearby properties.
Today is an exciting day for downtown Shreveport. We’re so very sad that our friend, Vickie Marshall, former executive director of Shreveport Common who passed away suddenly last year, isn’t here to enjoy it with us.