Swaine: Downtown continues resurgence

Commercial National Bank as it stood in downtown Shreveport. It is currently undergoing a renovation to turn into luxury apartments.

For the entire history of Shreveport, the place to have a business; to work, shop, and play was in downtown. A single roughly 40-year stretch from the 1960s through 90s almost led to downtown’s undoing. High-speed highways, housing and lending decisions made in Washington, the lure of suburbs and apparently, the allure of lawn maintenance, nearly killed our historic centers.

Downtowns suffered greatly during this period, losing entire blocks and irreplaceable historic structures in the headlong rush to Urban Renewal.

Downtown Shreveport was wounded, but not mortally. Over the past decade, trends, our remaining solidly-constructed old buildings, bank re-engagement, and a desire to once again connect with things historic and authentic have led to a strong beginning of the return of downtown.

Developers are actively circling the city center, running the numbers for construction costs and totaling investment returns. Many have already jumped in. For example, 72 apartment units are under construction at The Standard, the new name for 509 Market. First-time downtown developer John Cush is converting his 719 Marshall Street building to condominium units, Scott Harkey is continuing work on 11 apartment units at the Southern Bell across from the Strand Theater, Rob Cochran is finishing up apartments in the 800 block of Texas Avenue and the Lofts at 624 Texas Street still have apartment and office work to be completed.

Shreveport, late to the urban residential scene, has long been underbuilt in terms of downtown living spaces and more is needed to catch up. These residential numbers will convert to demographics and lead to more retail opportunities downtown.

For years, people not convinced that downtown would ever be back considered the lack of a downtown grocery store as proof. While the 1.6 miles to the nearest Brookshire’s does not seem an insurmountable distance, two property owners are planning grocery market/delis, one is close to launching an urban farm, another is signing a contract on a meat market.

A coffee roaster and additional restaurants are in the offing and all will join those cafes, coffee shops, nightspots, art galleries, performance spaces, museums, movie theatre and microbrewery that already call this place home. An aquarium will follow soon and creative thinkers can enjoy the interesting conversion opportunities afforded by the vacancies of two downtown bus terminals.

We’re staking a claim on small and local, unique and unusual, and we actively encourage outliers. Downtown IS in the center of it all. Easy to get to, easy to travel to and from…but as we continue to rebound, we hope to become harder and harder to leave.

Liz Swaine is executive director of Shreveport Downtown Development Authority