Green: Is the new downtown arena development a good idea?

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Shreveport is getting a $139 million development along its riverfront. The Shreveport City Council approved Mayor Ollie Tyler’s plan to use $30M of bond money from the Riverfront Development Fund for a new sports arena and mixed use development. Through a public private partnership, a further $100 million in mixed use — retail, office space, residences, entertainment venues — would come along with the arena and stretch from Cross Bayou north of the Hilton Hotel up to Spring Street near the Water Works Museum.

The idea is that the development would attract the New Orleans Pelicans’ development team playing in the NBA G-League, as well as other sporting events, including rumors of the New Orleans Saints NFL training camp.

City officials say the development will generate jobs and tax revenue, attract tourists, redevelop “underutilized” areas of the city, and provide more opportunities for minority businesses.

The arena is expected to cost around $27M with no additional cost to citizens. The plan is that the arena would come initially from the fund and then generate enough tax revenue to pay for itself. The money initially used for the arena is dedicated to economic development among the riverfront.

A presentation before the council listed 16 agencies in support of the development, including the Committee of 100, the Convention and Tourist Bureau, and NLEP.

But the public, from both the meeting and social media response, is less than supportive.

Many residents yesterday argued a sports complex and mixed-use development would do less good than investing into public safety, streets and infrastructure, or repairs at existing sports venues. While small business owners wanted to make sure they would be included in the plan and given equal opportunity.

I understand the public’s outcry to fix “crumbling” streets or solve crime issues. However, these funds are dedicated to something like this plan, which means it’s a very difficult and slippery slope to justify spending this money on the public’s desired expenditures. Those are issues that we should all be concerned about and I think the public should take every opportunity to speak out.

Personally? I don’t get it. Shreveport has a long history of semi-pro sports. Unfortunately, that history also includes a graveyard of semi-pro sports teams. The Mavericks, Captains, Pirates, Battlewings, Mudbugs — they’ve all perished. Even the yearly college football tradition of the Independence Bowl has seen a decline in attendance. The Mudbugs are the only team that has managed to build any sort of long term following, and even their rebirth last year came after the team went dark and was raised by utilizing private investment.

If that is your crown jewel for this, it’s a very shaky crown jewel.

Now, my boss always gave me this advice: Anyone can be a critic. If you want to criticize something, give a better option.

My idea is far less sexy than a 3,000-seat arena housing a NBA affiliate surrounded by stores and restaurants. But it would definitely accomplish the goal of economic development. I’d like to see something akin to the National Cyber Research Park, preferably even a sister or partner to the Cyber Innovation Center – some sort of development dedicated to the education of the future workforce, an attractor for another CSRA-level tech client, or even an incubator to support our burgeoning tech industry.

I’m sure the argument is that the idea isn’t enough to generate a public-private partnership to get off the ground. That’s fair. But no one can afford to sniff at the 1,100 jobs generated by the cyber research park, or that Louisiana Tech is coming in to a building to offer classes there.

I applaud Mayor Tyler, the council, and all the interested parties in trying SOMETHING. It is a piece of land that needs development and doing this is definitely better than sitting on your hands. As this project moves forward towards a September 2019 completion date, I truly do hope it’s successful and I have to eat my words. I’d do it with a smile.

Sean Green is publisher of BIZ. Magazine. He can be reached at sean@bizmagsb.com