Thirteen Shreveport business people gathered Tuesday at the Water Works Museum to share their support of the proposed mixed-use development and sports complex, nicknamed the « Cross Bayou Project » by city officials.
Supporters of the Cross Bayou mixed-use development in Shreveport have launched a marketing campaign aimed at branding the controversial $150 million-plus project as a « Slam Dunk for Shreveport. »
The campaign includes a website, Facebook video ads and billboards. And more than a dozen local business people and others gathered Tuesday to put their voices behind it during a news briefing that invoked the « slam dunk » branding.
« We came together to get the facts of this case out because we can’t pass up this opportunity, » Tyler Comeaux, a managing member of Shreveport for Pelicans, said at the Tuesday event outside Shreveport’s Water Works Museum.
Text at the bottom of the « Slam Dunk » website says the group is a « citizen-business partnership » and « is not affiliated with any local government organizations, individual elected officials, or public employees. »
But the website does list five city officials on a page titled « Team Introduction, » including Mayor Ollie Tyler. The officials are named under a secondary heading, « City of Shreveport. »
The 13 people, from local economic development and community agencies including Griggs Enterprise Inc. and the Port of Caddo-Bossier, who attended Tuesday’s briefing said they funded the website and belong to the « Shreveport for Pelicans » support group because they believe the Cross Bayou Project will bring increased opportunity and prosperity to the area. Gremillion and Pou Integrated Marketing, an advertising agency, designed the website.
« This is an opportunity that cities and towns across this country are hoping comes knocking on their doors, » said Comeaux, also a vice president at the architectural and engineering firm Burk-Kleinpeter Inc., which has done business with the City of Shreveport. « It’s not every day that a company offers to spend $100 million on a development in your community. »
The marketing campaign is aimed at building support for the proposed riverfront development along Cross Bayou on the north side of downtown, which Tyler introduced Aug. 22.
The development would be anchored by a « sports complex » to include an arena to be used by the NBA’s New Orleans Pelican’s new G-League, or minor league, team. The mayor has pledged to commit up to $30 million to build the complex, subject to city council approval. The council is to take up the project for discussion next week.
Corporate Realty of Birmingham, Alabama, has said it would invest up to $139 million to develop accompanying amenities such as an hotel, apartments, retail stores, professional offices and entertainment venues.
Comeaux touted what he called the 5-to-1 ratio for private versus public dollars invested in the project.
« We have to look at it from the outside looking in, that someone is willing to invest in us, » he said. « Our city has been lacking a catalyst for economic development, and this project could be the catalyst needed to generate jobs, taxes, and a sense of pride in our city. »
The city’s bond rating recently dropped a notch due, in part, to a number of economic factors: a « fairly high » unemployment rate, a shrinking labor force, deteriorated reserve levels in the city general fund and stagnant economic growth.
The downgrade does not affect the city’s ability to pursue the Cross Bayou project, city officials said.
Mark Prevot, an architect and president of Prevot Design Services in Shreveport, said private-public partnerships similar to the Cross Bayou proposal have proven successful in San Diego, Chattanooga, San Antonio and Columbus, Ohio.
« Downtown Shreveport needs people living in the space, » he said. « This is a real boon for our city if it happens. It’s my hope that this connects to the rest of the city and the rest of the town. »
Bill Weiner, also an architect, was not present at the Tuesday gathering but has spoken against the project at multiple city council meetings. Weiner used to give « big picture » talks on urban design concepts for the Metropolitan Planning Commission.
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Weiner said in an emailed statement that a previous soil investigation discovered a soil stability problem at the proposed development’s site, which also flooded in 1949.
He also said borrowing an additional $30 million could result in an additional reduction of the city’s bond rating, raising the interest rate for the Cross Bayou Project and other projects.
« There is a better and more appropriate way to bring the Pelicans to Shreveport, and not have to deal with the costly foundation problems at the Cross Bayou site, » Weiner wrote in a fact sheet, which he handed out to media and members of the public at a recent council meeting.
Weiner, like several other members of the public, questioned why the city is not considering renovations to Hirsch Coliseum, a multi-use facility designed to accommodate basketball and ice hockey and with parking for about 7,000, or renovations to Fairgrounds Stadium or Independence Stadium.
He also noted that the construction of the downtown convention center, which then « turned its back on the Bayou, » highlighted a missed opportunity on the city’s part.
« Now what is being proposed by the developer is much more of the same lack of real planning to take advantage of the unique site and the public open space along Cross Bayou that the Master Plan has so aptly addressed, » Weiner wrote.
Other opponents have noted Shreveport’s « poor » history of attracting and retaining professional sports teams, the city’s overall poverty, ongoing and costly concerns with infrastructure, and underpaid city employees.
Comeaux said Corporate Realty is interested in keeping the development’s construction themed to the Water Works Museum’s industrial and red-brick architecture — to highlight the local attraction rather than detract from it.
Eric England, executive director of the Caddo Bossier Parishes Port, said the Cross Bayou Project is « a pure quality of life issue. » England was one of 16 organizations that originally wrote letters of support to bring the Pelicans to Shreveport.
« Our thoughts and beliefs at the time we submitted the letter (supporting the Pelicans) was that this would be both a sports complex and a multi-use development, as part of a master plan, » England said.
Eddie Hamilton, basketball coach at Southwood High School, asked at the Tuesday meeting that the public consider what the Cross Bayou Project could mean for the area’s youth.
« One of the things I like is that this project is one more thing that will give our children exposure, » he said. « By having this facility here, where the Saints and Pelicans can come in and play, this could spark them to see they can do something great right here at home. »
Here is the latest news about the proposed mixed use development and sports complex coming to Cross Bayou
(Lex Talamo/The Times)
To learn more about Shreveport for Pelicans:
Facebook at @SlamDunkforShreveport
Call Ed Walsh with Gremillion and Pou Integrated Marketing, (318) 424-2676 ext. 345.