Shreveport Common > Vision Plan
Shreveport Common Vision Plan
The Shreveport Common Vision Plan, a project Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC), made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, began with a year-long, strategic yet grass-roots, community listening process. Gregory Free, Designer and Historic Preservation Specialist, (Gregory Free & Assoc., Austin, TX) led a local Shreveport Common Design Team, which, along with Wendy Benscoter, who at the time was the Project Manager, collected, assimilated and processed over 1,000 ideas, suggestions, concerns and strategies to develop a Vision Plan for the Arts-led revitalization of the long-blighted area. A Mayor-appointed Shreveport Common Advisory Committee, of stakeholders, neighbors, area businesses, property owners, non-profit organizations and artists provided oversight to the process, and from that nine, initiative-based Community-Expert Task Forces were formed to research and recommend strategies for implementation.
The Shreveport Common Vision Plan, which was approved by City Council and the Metropolitan Planning Commission in 2011, imagines an Authentic, Sustainable, Creative Community; one that places Northwest Louisiana Artists on design teams for community green spaces, alternative transportation initiatives, and new and renovated residences; imagines arts and cultural Live/Work spaces and marketplaces; and includes Public Art and Arts Programing that undergirds a change from empty streets to a vibrant, animated place.
At the time the Vision Plan was published in 2011, the following video was produced as a visual summary.
Next: into the Implementation Phase
Foreword from the 2011 Vision Plan
“When will we get there, I ain’t saying; how will we get there, I don’t know…all I know is I am on my way! Got a dream boy, Got a song, Paint your wagon and come along!
This stanza from “Paint Your Wagon” served as the introduction to the first – 1992 – Community Cultural Plan developed by the Shreveport Regional Arts Council (SRAC), subsequently funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and the City of Shreveport, and implemented…step by step over the next 10 years. At that time, the planning process was a 100% Grass Roots Planning effort by a “green” (as in novice) team that had a lot of passion, tons of energy, and a sense that the Arts community had not maximized its full potential to partner with other agencies to improve life in Shreveport. As a planning team, we really didn’t know where we were going, or when we would arrive. We did know that if we stayed on the path, our journey would catapult the Artists and Arts Organizations in the Shreveport metropolitan area to a distinguished role that would produce measurable results to benefit the citizens of and visitors to Northwest Louisiana.
Almost 20 years later, with a demonstrated $90 million in annual Economic Impact and the production and presentation of more than 500 Art activities every year, the Arts community has received the ultimate “charge” from the City of Shreveport through Mayor Cedric Glover: Create a Cultural Community; propel a Cultural Economy. Mayor Glover’s “edict” was forged in the throes of a devastating fire, set by an arsonist, which destroyed the offices, artists’ rehearsal space, and storage area of the Shreveport Regional Arts Council. Mayor Glover did not seem to see the flames’ destruction; he saw the phoenix…the renaissance…for a true Cultural Economy instigated by the rebirth of SRAC and the strengthening – and stabilization – of the Arts Community.
It was during this critical time…just days after the fire, that the designer for the expansion of SRAC’s arts center,artspace, Gregory Free, gathered friends and comrades to find a new home for Shreveport Regional Arts Council. He didn’t want the mourners to let the Mayor’s challenge go unnoticed. Gregory Free is a Historic Preservation Design Consultant with a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University. Two years prior to the fire, Gregory brought his deep southern heritage, his Austin, Texas sensibility, his historic passion…or his passion for all things historic, along with his love for Strawn’s Pies to the artspace Advisory Board and began working with Richard LeBlanc, LeBlanc & Young Architects, on the design for artspace. Late one evening, Gregory saw the treasure that Shreveport residents call the Central Fire Station; he called then-Fire Chief, Brian Crawford, to ask about a tour and within minutes both had agreed that there could be no better “calling” than to move SRAC from the Fire to the Fire Station.
Mayor Glover saw the immediate and long-term benefits: SRAC would have enough space for Public Programming and expanding its mission to provide training for the entrepreneurial development of Artists and Arts Organizations; plus, SRAC would become a catalyst to transform a nine-block island of urban decay – with a handful of home owners and a plethora of cracked sidewalks and brick-laden empty lots – from blight to a vibrant community thriving with people who will live, work, recreate, make art, and make life in what is called Shreveport Common. Mayor Glover and Gregory Free were among the first to “see” the opportunity to transform a little over an acre of weathered, weed and brick filled vacant lots into an open green space that could become the heart – the Common – of Shreveport Common. Finally, Mayor Glover saw the opportunity to activate the Common Street exit/entry at Interstate 20 to become a primary entry to a revitalized downtown for visitors and residents alike.
In February 2010, Mayor Glover directed the Shreveport Regional Arts Council and City of Shreveport to submit a grant to the Mayors’ Institute on City Design, a program of the National Endowment for the Arts, to fund the Planning Process.
In July 2010, Shreveport was announced as one of 17 cities selected to receive matching funds to engage the community in a grass roots planning process to create a Vision Plan for Shreveport Common, spearheaded by Gregory Free. Within a few months, Gregory had assembled a local planning team to include Mischa Farrell, Architect; Landscape Architects Jerome Nicholas and Katie Martin of Nicholas Landscape; and Project Manager, Wendy Benscoter of Benscoter Consultants, LLC.
The team hit the ground running, committing to do “door to door” interviews with all residents, property owners, organizations, and stakeholders in the Shreveport Common area. To ensure that these “Listening Sessions” were comprehensive, inclusive, and addressed by the Shreveport Common Vision Plan, Mayor Glover appointed a 50 person Shreveport Common Advisory Committee, which met every three weeks from January through July.
Early in the “Listening Process” the Texas Avenue Community Association (TACA) hosted the first community “Listening Session” – by the end of the formal listening process, the team had interviewed more than 65 groups and heard more than 1,000 ideas of which 300 were “unique.” Along the way, there have been many community activities to engage current and would-be neighbors. Planning “kicked-off” with an August 2010 announcement of the Central Fire Station’s upcoming metamorphosis to the CENTRAL ARTSTATION; a spring, Great American Clean Up with Shreveport Green, TACA and the Aseana Gardens Foundation brought hundreds out to clean up the area; narrated trolley tours; a combined TACA Maker’s Fair and Aseana Gardens Festival followed; as did a Thursday Night Trolley and History of Shreveport Common Tour; four walking tours; podcasts; a Tax Incentives Workshop for potential Developers; and a June 18th “upside down Design Charrette” where more than 600 people drew, wrote, talked, touched, painted, rhymed, sculpted, and dictated their reactions to the first draft of the Shreveport Common Vision Plan.
These ideas and suggestions were translated into a final virtual Vision Plan that forms the foundation of our communication about how we envision Shreveport Common. This written document supports the virtual presentation. Together, with you, we are on the way to making Shreveport Common a true cultural community – built on the authentic history and heritage of the area; the key building block is creativity, which stems from the professional artists and arts organizations; and the foundation of the building process is sustainability – it doesn’t have to built in one day or all at one time…this is an area that will grow!
Our new tune: When will we get there? (Within three years there will be a noticeable change); How will we get there? (The Vision Plan, Strategies for “Next Steps” and the Planning Document illumine the way – the teams and partnerships that have been forged will guide our course); We’re on our way…Paint YOUR Wagon, and come along!”
Pam Atchison, Executive Director, Shreveport Regional Arts Council, September, 2011
A selection of the major projects, as imagined in the original 2011 Vision Plan
The literal and figurative centerpiece of the Shreveport Common Vision Plan is the Common, a one-acre public green space located within the triangle of land bounded by Texas Avenue, Common, and Cotton Streets; land that had historically served as a depot lot or incoming and outgoing commerce beginning in the mid-19th century.
The central feature of the park is a two-third acre “Lawn”. This is a multi-use space, which, for non-programmed periods, is the front yard or Common for the area’s residents. On weekends, weekday evenings and days off, this is the space to take a breath of fresh air, have a picnic, fly a kite, take a stroll, or play a pick up ball game with neighbors. During weekdays it serves the commercial sites by providing open space relief for taking a break, having lunch, etc. It can also serve to accommodate vendor tent areas for small fairs, festivals, and similar events. The lawn space is surrounded by a continuous walk for jogging and strolling. Adjacent to the central lawn is performance “band shell” structure. One function of this structure is, of course, a stage for small to medium sized musical performances. However, this roofed structure should be designed for multiple purposes, for instance, neighborhood group meetings, family reunions, small parties, etc. At the west end of the Common, at the intersection of Cotton and Texas Avenue, a sculptural fountain is envisioned. This will be a visual symbol for Shreveport Common as well as a welcoming entrance into downtown Shreveport for those entering from the west down Texas Avenue.
Green Buffer/”Pooch” Park
The south edge of the Shreveport Common cultural district is well defined by the still-active lines of the Union Pacific Railroad. The Vision Plan proposes that the City of Shreveport approach Union Pacific Railroad for a donation, lease, or use agreement of these properties so that they might be cleared of undergrowth, and converted into a green buffer for the district. With the acquisition of adjacent small parcels of land along the unimproved west extension of Lake Street, this plot would constitute a 1.6 acre elongated triangle well suited to use as a fenced urban canine park.
ature trees would remain, and required improvements would be minimal to create this much-requested urban amenity. Fencing would provide dual safety for pets and citizens alike. A high foot traffic count would ensure the public “policing” of the area and quickly improve the perception of safety in the district. Primary access to the entrance would be via Wilson Street, with secondary access points to be provided to the east, as will be discussed later in this plan.
In addition to the large public green spaces proposed by this vision plan, the focus on small, nooks, crannies, and niche spaces should not be neglected. These can be both public and private efforts, and could be led by the example of Church of the Holy Cross’s intimate side garden, on the site of their early choir house. One category of such spaces would be more public in nature and strive to be integral parts of upcoming redevelopment projects, and when possible, relate physically or visually to the greater whole. These would likely have owners, sponsors, or related tenants whose support systems would ensure their sustainability. A second approach would be the more hidden spaces, which tend to be private and personal in nature, ranging from specialty gardens, urban produce plots, courtyards, and walks.
One niche existing park-like space that should be discussed is the small plot of land at the west end of the 800 Block of Texas Avenue. This parcel was created from a former house site and the original right-of-way of Bailey Street. For unknown reasons, the c. 1910 frame house was demolished and Bailey Street re-routed and graded by the City to intersect Texas Avenue perpendicularly, leaving this odd-shaped remnant. Later, in the 1980s-1990s, the lot was planted with several oaks, 3-4 of which survive and provide the only public green space currently in the district. This plot was once considered a potential site for the proposed transportation link, but local stakeholders encouraged the Design Team to re-evaluate it as a niche park. In the course of the Visioning Process, four adjacent historic buildings were acquired for preservation, and the City has offered the Bailey Street was re-routed and the developers a long-term right of use agreement as an incentive. Now, with this public-private partnership, the site promises to soon be developed as a park and outdoor venue, enhancing the revitalized mixed-use buildings and the entire district. This site exemplifies how the synthesis of existing conditions, public input, private investment, and City leaders can produce outstanding solutions to the needs of the district.
One of the most important developments related to Oakland Cemetery in the Shreveport Common Visioning Process was dialogue that led to the incorporation of their proposed Visitor Center on Grand Avenue (Elvis Presley Boulevard), south of the 1912 main entrance gates. The last survivor of the Victorian “Sprague Street Cottages” (c. 1890) was previously donated to the Friends for this specific use. Its suggested placement on City-owned property places it near the heart of the Shreveport Common district in a place of prominence that was a residential site for almost a century. This placement also maintains the scale of the 1940s Lakeside Baptist Church and further preserves the visual connection through the block to the Florentine (Olgivie-Wiener Mansion) on its elevated site to the west. The Visioning Process also recommends the future addition of a columbarium to the Cemetery, on non-historic lands adjacent to and NW of the main cemetery, where a seldom-used sunken park from the 1980s now exists. The columbarium could be an active memorial site, and a place of quiet meditation, restoring an important part of the Cemetery’s role for Shreveport’s future.
The Aseana Gardens organization, through several Listening Sessions and other meetings, provided many ideas and responded to suggestions that would enhance the plaza as a child- and program- friendly area to include: Relocating existing modern period sculpture and pedestal for installation of large-scale flat map of Asia and other child-friendly public art; Add discreet handrails at top and edges of monumental stair to frame small plaza/offset pre –ADA dangerous conditions; Commission new artworks that would partially screen the Aseana Gardens from Milam Street providing sound control, enhance performances potential, and better define it as a public space; and Provide small didactic panels that celebrate the past, present, and future diversity of the district, emphasizing this eastern-influenced gateway from downtown into Shreveport Common and contrasting the corner’s role as the historic gateway to the southwest.
A successful mix of residential styles, densities, and range of purchase and rental prices is necessary to satisfy the needs of the interested stakeholders and create a sustainable, balanced community, particularly for artists and culture seekers. Inevitably, there will be those who desire high end loft style urban living, and require large residential units with amenities such as high ceilings, large windows, historic materials, open interior spaces, balconies, and terraces, storage and garage facilities. According to the local development and construction advisors to the Visioning Process, and past experience, historic preservation of existing built fabric is higher in cost than conventional new construction. Without significant incentives, and larger-scaled projects, adaptive reuse of historic buildings is normally not able to compete economically with new construction. In the Shreveport Common Cultural district, most of the underused historic buildings are small, and there are few opportunities to acquire them en mass for a single large development. This, plus their distinctive appeal and location, make them best suited for higher income residential development. Like the fine adaptive reuse of the Salvation Army building at 710 Crockett Street, other select area have already begun to transition to new uses. The 700 Block of Milam Street and the 800 Block of Texas Avenue, are the most significant examples. Another visionary example is the recent acquisition of the Calanthean Temple and its neighbor in the 1000 Block of Texas Avenue, for renovations, which will include private residences and artist’s studios. Other properties that lend themselves to residential redevelopment are the Creswell Hotel, available for sale at this writing. The Hemenway Furniture/DataStor warehouse, is currently in long-term private business use, however, the design team has suggested the opportunities for future preservation and mixed-use.
The higher costs or adaptive reuse of historic buildings is offset somewhat by significant tax incentives, including Federal tax credits for certified historic preservation projects, and cultural district and housing credits that can be stacked as applicable. An existing facility in the district that has taken advantage of these credits is the historic McAdoo Hotel (1002 Texas Avenue). In this case, however, the rare scale and original use of the structure made lower income housing feasible. The McAdoo is in the first phase of a $3.4 million dollar renovation to be completed in 2012. The most significant existing residential facility is the Fairmont Apartment Tower (917 Common Street), where 254 units house an average of 600 people via a Section 8 subsidized housing voucher program. Even though the Section 8 regulations allow for 25% of this facility to be leased at market rates, the physical and social environment had lessened the appeal of this important residential property. With physical upgrades, maintenance, and management attention to the social issues discussed previously in this plan, the Fairmont could once again regain its status as a desirable address.
One of the most significant problems within the study area is the vast amount of vacant and underused land, giving the area a bleak and abandoned character, and appearing as wastelands between the historic landmarks in the district. In order to provide the uses and functional requirements of the many elements necessary and specifically requested within the redeveloped district, a great deal of new construction is required. The Vision Plan proposes three distinct sites for new mixed use constructions that would raise the residential density, supply a variety of residential sizes, styles, and price points, and allow for the retail, convenience, and personal services necessary to support a vital residential community. In general, these buildings were developed along similar design programs emphasizing scale, rhythm, and substantial materials compatible with the quality of the historic architecture in the district. These are intended to be contextual buildings, “friendly” to their older neighbors, but by no means historical revivals or facsimiles. However, the intent is to discourage buildings that overwhelm or draw too much focus from the landmarks.