Bossier City business owners react to details of redevelopment plan

Bossier City business owners react to details of redevelopment plan
The development will feature a mixed-use apartment building, green space, and pedestrian friendly walkways.
The development will feature a mixed-use apartment building, green space, and pedestrian friendly walkways.
The red buildings indicate existing buildings that will be incorporated into the master plan.
The red buildings indicate existing buildings that will be incorporated into the master plan.

BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - Downtown Bossier City business owners are reacting after a plan to redevelop the area was presented to the Bossier City Council Tuesday.

Kenneth "Chip" Hemphill, the owner of Hoot and Holler Archery, likes what he's heard so far about the city's plan.

"Bossier is trying to revitalize their main area. What started Bossier City is the downtown, they are going to bring it back to life, which is really exciting to be a part of," he said.

Hemphill heard bits and pieces of the plan from city council members, but it wasn't until Tuesday, that the full plan was laid out in a public forum by Architect Mike McSwain and Sean Sims, President of SKS Studios out of Kansas City.

The council commissioned McSwain to come up with downtown Bossier City's master plan for $73,800.00 on September 2, 2014.

It isn't the first time Bossier City has planned to revitalize the area, Mayor Lo Walker told KSLA News 12 redeveloping the area has been in the works for decades. In October of 1995, the city released a redevelopment plan and hosted public meetings about the topic. However, the idea never took off because the city was unable to fund the plan.

McSwain explained what created a renewed interest in downtown was the event in which the Computer Science Corporation (CSC), an information technology company, was choosing between building a center in Lincoln, Nebraska or Bossier City. In an attempt to attract the business here, the city leadership asked them what was attractive about Lincoln, Nebraska, compared to Bossier City.

"They said it was really the Haymarket District in Lincoln, which is a revitalization of their downtown core, which is right between their university and their CBD," McSwain explained. "We obviously don't have those two things here, but we have an old downtown that needs some revitalization."

Part of the cast of characters that comes along with companies like the CSC are the millennial, the young workforce that the tech companies are hiring, McSwain said. Though definitions vary, the Millennial generation is commonly described as those born between 1980 and 2000, or have reached young adulthood around the turn of the 21st century.

In order to come up with the master plan to revitalize Bossier City's downtown, McSwain along with Sims, visited specific cities and investigated other revitalization projects. The team looked at precedent studies at locations such as the Haymarket District in Lincoln, Nebraska; the Prairiefire development in Overland Park, Kansas' the River Market District in Little Rock, Arkansas and Downtown Lafayette in Louisiana.

"We found things these target audiences were really looking to find, like a mixture of existing and new architecture. There is an existing urban fabric that is folded into new development, there are also some connections to the needs of a millennial demographic," Sims explained.

They not only visited other cities, but also with local millennials, some from MoonBot Studios, Cohab, and CSC.

"We asked them, 'what do you like about Bossier-Shreveport?' We asked them what they miss, because a lot of those guys come from out of town," McSwain told the council.

"The things they said they really liked to do, was kind of what you would expect from the younger crowd," said McSwain. "They said they were looking for independent food, independent retail, unique dining like a variety of ethnic foods, places they can work and play outdoors and indoors like restaurants and bars."

McSwain explained they took that information and tailored it to what Downtown Bossier City could have.

"One thing they said overwhelmingly is they are really looking for things we don't have in this community already, we are looking for something a little bit different, a little more progressive and green,' he said.

Their research found national chains and strip malls do not appeal to the millennial generation and instead, they are looking for unique experiences, businesses that have soul and add character to the community.

"Taking some of those comments to heart, we sought out to develop this downtown re-envisioning plan by doing a set of case studies and image studies that visually encapsulated the things that this target group had been asking for," said Sims.

Some of the elements that made it on to their list is a vibrant town center, a place where the community could gather for activities, civic events, places to see outdoor concerts, art exhibits, places that really tie residents to the urban environment around them.

The core area of the re-envisioned downtown will be a town center area with a plaza that would incorporate all of those ideas. McSwain says they are fortunate and also unfortunate that downtown Bossier doesn't already have a center magnet which a downtown normally has, such as a courthouse or a city hall.

"We don't have that, but we have a chance to make one," he said.  "For us, the making of that is a retail, mixed-use core where we have a retail/commercial ground floor, with residential above it and the event plaza around it, so have the synergy of those elements, that's what we saw as the start point to this."

Sims says based on their studies, millennials like the idea of connectivity and the aspect of being in the heart of a village, that they have all aspects of city life at their finger tips, but not necessarily at such an urban scale that it feels like a large city.

As part of their plan, Sims says they are integrating not only the idea of a town center, but also a variety of different housing options, from multi-family to town houses, to single family, but all within a fabric and a frame work that creates a liveable urban environment.

"The other thing that was overwhelmingly positive and talked about, were some concepts utilizing green technology, green connectivity, walkablility, bikeability, really things that would allow people to be outside and enjoy the space, get from one place to the next, in a very pleasing environment," Sims said.

McSwain says while the catalyst for the idea was to attract the young people, they have found what the target audience is also attractive to others too.

"It's really been universal to all ages and all demographics, it turns out the millennials, I guess, started this process, but we've reached out to more than the millenials, and overwhelmingly a lot of the people say the same thing, we are looking for a unique place that we don't have, something we will see when we go out of town," he said.

There are existing buildings currently in the way of the designers master plan.

"We want to be like a surgeon when looking at development opportunities, rather than we go level everything and start over. We don't think that makes for a great development here," McSwain said.

The planners emphasized that it is very important to keep the successful existing buildings and named a few specific ones in their presentation: the existing corner building on Barksdale that houses Oh So Designs Embroidery along with other businesses, a building to be renovated right in the core of downtown, Hoot and Holler Archery, Flying Heart Brewing, the Bossier Arts Council and L'Italiano Restaurant.

"We think what is going to make this is really incorporating and respecting buildings and businesses that are part of downtown Bossier and then infusing that with new life around it," McSwain said.

Phase one of the plan includes a plaza area, the mixed-use apartment building, the beautification of the streetscapes, reconstructing Barksdale Boulevard, which according to McSwain, will remain a commercial street along the front face of the development.

McSwain predicts the first phase of the project could go out to bid by the end of the year and construction will start in 2016 and last 18 months, though the mixed use development may happen during a later time frame.

The rough estimate for the project is between $10 - $12 million.

The full project is predicted to be completed in 10 years.

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