As Henry Ford famously noted, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” This adage is true for Shreveport with the Cross Bayou Development proposed by the City; whether this development succeeds or fails will be based entirely on what we, as citizens and tax payers, believe we can do.
For more than 100 years, the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce has been a strong proponent of economic development and what we can do in Shreveport. Consequently, given its potential impact, we have sought to learn as much as we can about the details of this project. Last week we hosted a town hall for our members where we heard from the city and the project’s private developer. After due consideration, the chamber believes that, while there are downside risks in the case of the Cross Bayou Development those risks have been mitigated to an acceptable level. Most importantly, we believe that the proposed development has significant long and short-term benefits for the City and the citizens of our community.
In the short term, the willingness of the City to engage in a forward-looking effort to expand downtown development could lead to a rush of interest in downtown lots and buildings. This attention could help ignite interest in the existing developments already underway and encourage renewed attention to other locations ripe for development. Selection by the Pelicans organization would provide regional and even national attention on Shreveport, providing an opportunity to showcase our other assets such as our growing tech sector, reasonable cost of living and diverse economy.
This development also provides the City and Parish an opportunity to work together to not only deliver an economic jolt to our city but to demonstrate their ability to foster a true development partnership with the business community.
In the long term, this development offers the possibility of fundamentally refashioning downtown Shreveport into the kind of mixed use, residential, retail and commercial hub that the city once was and can be again. While becoming home to a regional sports franchise is nice, being linked economically to the sports ecosystem of Louisiana that primarily exists south of I-10 will allow Northwest Louisiana the larger dot on the map that is so deserves. Additionally, a long-term relationship with the Benson organization has made a significant positive impact on New Orleans. To have a similar relationship with that organization would allow Shreveport to likewise reap some of those same economic benefits.
Unlike past investments in sports activities, the economics of this project are relatively straightforward. The City is reallocating less than $2M a year from the Riverfront Development Fund, a fund established specifically for this kind of purpose, to invest in a multi-use facility that will be owned and operated by the City. For that investment, they will have a lease from the Benson organization for the duration of the bonds used to pay for the project. In addition, if there are not sufficient funds generated from the facility to cover its costs after the 5th year, there are other funds that will become available with the expiration of the renovation payments on Independence Stadium that must be used for a similar project and which will be reallocated to these costs.
The City is using dedicated money that must be used for these types of expenditures. This is not taking money away from roads, sewers or police protection. In fact, it is expanding economic growth that will ultimately help pay for those needed projects and services through property and sales tax revenue generated from the development.
In return for the public investment, private developers are willing to invest in this development in Shreveport at the rate of roughly 5 to 1. More than 80% of the investment and risk is being carried by outside developers using private dollars who will bring new money, new jobs, new amenities and new attractions to Shreveport. The developers, Corporate Realty of Birmingham, Alabama, have a significant track record of success in developments in cities like Shreveport. They were very involved in the Regions Field project in their hometown of Birmingham which according to press reports has had three profound impacts on Birmingham including “boosted downtown’s critical mass…defied the naysayers and the odds…made other projects possible,” all impacts we believe are possible in Shreveport.
While the Pelicans G-League team are a key component to begin this project, regardless of whether they remain for 2 years, 5 years or 20 years, the mixed-use facility at the heart of this development will allow Shreveport to become the regional player in event-tourism it should be, and which other cities such as Tyler, Natchitoches, Monroe and Alexandria are all attempting to become.
Detractors will argue that we have been here before and it hasn’t worked, but investment managers are also obligated to tell you that past performance is not predictive of future returns. While that is often interpreted to mean that the good times won’t necessarily last, it also means that past failure does not mean future failure.
The Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce has always bet on Shreveport. Whether it was Cross Lake, I49 or a myriad of other projects, the Chamber has been a champion of all that Shreveport can be.
While questions remain and while vigilance is always necessary, we believe that this project is reasonably fiscally sound and ambitious without being reckless. It is also an important chance for Shreveport to leverage outside dollars and a unique opportunity to catalyze the good work and momentum we have downtown into a renaissance for our community.
We urge the City Council to vote on Tuesday to continue to move this project forward.