Shreveport pins hopes on downtown development

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News,Business

SHREVEPORT, La. (AP) — The success or failure of three projects in downtown Shreveport will illustrate the future of the city's commercial and entertainment hub.

The Sears Building in the 600 block of Texas Street and two adjacent buildings are being rehabilitated by a New Orleans developer seeking to turn them into a mixture of residential, commercial and office space. The project is underway, but there challenges endemic of bringing new business downtown.

The buildings are the property of Tipitina's Foundation co-founder Roland von Kurnatowski, a New Orleans resident who's had past success in Shreveport. His idea is to focus the cluster on music and entertainment venues and office space and, eventually, add apartments.

The basement of the Sears Building may become a music club affiliated with Tipitina's, the office space likely will go to music management and production ventures and there probably will be recording studios.

But downtown Shreveport lacks many of the amenities — grocery stores, dedicated parking and retailing — that allow residential space to flourish.

"It's sort of a chicken and the egg thing. Do you need to get the bodies there first to attract retail, or does the retail bring the bodies?" von Kurnatowski said. "It'll just add to the critical mass. I don't know if it'll be the tipping point. Critical mass is when it starts feeding off itself. I don't know if Shreveport is there quite yet, but I think it will get there."

Adding more feet on the streets is the key component to revitalizing downtown Shreveport.

"The one thing we need worse than anything else downtown is residential. We have extremely limited residential options at present downtown," said Liz Swaine, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. "We have to turn people away daily. It makes me sick to my stomach because residential is what creates excitement, the vibrancy, the desire for additional retail components."

There are fewer than 1,000 housing units downtown, and nearly all are occupied. As much as 80 percent of those units were built by developers taking advantage of affordable housing credits, leaving little space for people who earning a moderate income.

One of the newest additions — Ogilvie Hardware Lofts — helped fund its build-out by restricting residency to low-wage earners. Income restrictions for the lofts begin at $23,340 a year, and no resident is supposed to make more than $33,300 a year.

Swaine said low-income residents might not be the best bet to boom downtown. Disposable income is key.

"To be an especially vibrant downtown, we need people with a little more money who can go to Abby Singer's Bistro, who can go to artspace and pay $35 for an event, go to the farmers' market and buy items, go to the restaurants downtown and that have the demographic mix that will make us successful in bringing in those other retailers," Swaine said.

Von Kurnatowski isn't planning income restrictions for the Sears Building. Even though the apartments he'll build are last on his to-do list, he said he's already receiving calls from people who want to be on a waiting list to live there.

The building at 616 Texas St. could have office space open for lease as soon as August. There already are plans to open the music club in the Sears Building basement, and building from the ground up will help develop necessary infrastructure for residential living.

The building at 620 Texas St. is undergoing complete reconstruction, and it'll be some time before it's ready.

Completion of the project could improve the overall market for similar structures downtown, according to Debbie Camus, president of Lea Hall Properties. It would grow the headcount needed to attract national business and feed new chains of supply and demand.

Camus said she's encouraged about downtown's future because of growing interest in the Red River District, which could house the necessary food and shopping amenities for more residential growth.

But downtown commercial property, office space and apartment complexes suffer at least one common problem — parking.

A 2012 study commissioned by the DDA with Chicago-based Rich and Associates Parking Consultants determined downtown Shreveport had a deficiency of 636 parking spaces to meet demand. And the deficiency was expected to grow.

The study found there are 4,210 parking spaces downtown, only about 11 percent of which are city-controlled. There are 393 on-street spots and 3,817 off-street spaces. Rich and Associates' study said city control of at least 50 percent of parking is desirable for downtown growth.

At the time of the study, von Kurnatowski was concerned that parking could delay his $12 million project. He has been dealing with parking in that city's Warehouse District for a long time and now said parking won't derail the development.

"Parking is parking. You either can develop it as part of the package or you can't. I'm leaving it open if we will secure dedicated parking."

While some downtown development projects have failed to launch because of the parking situation, a co-owner of nine of the area's surface parking lots said it might have more to do with people being unwilling to walk, a thought supported by the 2012 study.

David Douglas, co-owner of Douglas Parking, which manages nine lots downtown, said several of his lots have 30 to 50 opens spaces every day with costs ranging from $20 to $110 a month. He said he's lowering rates, something only done when there are excess spaces.

"None of my parking lots in downtown Shreveport are full," he said.

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Information from: The Times, http://www.shreveporttimes.com

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