Downtowns represent the heart and soul of any thriving community. They are iconic and powerful symbols, epitomizing the image and character of a city. Given that most downtowns were one of the oldest neighborhoods citywide, they offer rare insights into their city’s past, present and future. They serve an important role in economic and social development, creating a critical mass of activities where commercial, cultural, and civic activities are concentrated.
Recognizing the value and importance of downtowns, Northeast Louisiana is investing resources to revitalize these neighborhoods. Communities throughout the region have begun restoring their downtowns and developing new infrastructure to maximize the commercial and cultural potential of these neighborhoods.
Downtown Monroe Gets a Major Boost with a New RiverWalk and Renovations of Historic Buildings
The City of Monroe broke ground on a new $3.2 million RiverWalk in downtown Monroe. The 2-thousand foot long walkway promises to open up new development along the Ouachita River. Stretching from Louisville Avenue and to the Masur Museum, the brick Riverwalk will tie together restaurants, residential, office, and retail development within the newly revitalized downtown district.
New life returns to many historic buildings in downtown Monroe as historic preservation efforts peel back years of bad remodeling and neglect. The former Virginia Hotel which also served as the old State Office Building has been fully refurbished, featuring some of the original flooring and fixtures from the 1920s. Vantage Health Plan invested $22 million to painstakingly renovate the once grand hotel, creating an equally grand, multi-use building with retail on the first floor and office and event space on the upper floors.
Soon Castle Hall, a century old historic building in the downtown area, will be redeveloped as a condo complex, adding much needed residential space in downtown Monroe. The former Knights of Pythias’ building which once housed sick families and widows of the war will be converted into 12 condos. Developers Jason and Jennifer Thomas will also redevelop the former Chef Han Food manufacturing building into luxury condominiums. The entrepreneurial couple has purchased other downtown properties for redevelopment.
Other private developers have joined the movement to revitalize downtown Monroe, by purchasing older properties for redevelopment. The synergy of public and private development promises to fulfill a dream of many downtown development groups who want to see downtown Monroe flourish as a destination to live, work, and play.
West Monroe’s Historic Cotton Port District Gets a Face-lift
Across the River, downtown West Monroe thrives as a commercial corridor- full of life, energy and activity. Reminiscent of its glory days as a booming cotton import and export hub, the Cotton Port Historic District, Antique Alley and surrounding areas once again sparkle after numerous restoration and beautification projects, led by the Downtown West Monroe Revitalization Group (DWMRG).
Projects like the installation of large painted medallions at two main intersections revitalize the look of downtown West Monroe. The crosswalk medallions, designed and implemented by ARROW Public Art, depict the cotton industry’s historical modes of transportation.
Another preservation project restored an iconic metal sculpture to its former glory. Created by Edmund Williamson, the metal flower sculpture has been located in downtown West Monroe for at least 20 years. Dulled by the elements, its spinning pinwheel flowers rusted by age, the once colorful garden of metal flowers will be restored to its original colors and its movable parts repaired. The sculpture is a highly recognizable piece of public art that helps give Antique Alley its unique character.
Another beautification project implemented on both sides of the Ouachita River remind us of our rich entrepreneurial history. ARROW Public Art restored the Coca-Cola murals in Monroe and West Monroe, LA. The popular soft drink was first bottled by the Biedenharn family in Monroe. Joseph Biedenharn built a thriving business empire, including the founding of Delta Airlines in Monroe; but it all started with bottling Coca-Cola right here in Northeast Louisiana.
Additionally, DWMRG coordinated fundraising from various partners for ARROW Public Art to implement postcard murals in both downtown West Monroe and Monroe. Work is currently taking place on the mural in West Monroe, and the one in Monroe should begin soon.
Ruston Earns National Historic Designation for its Downtown District
Downtown Ruston is the heart of this progressive Northeast Louisiana college town. The City’s downtown is considered a Louisiana Historic District, a Cultural District, a Downtown Development District and one of only 37 Main Street Communities in Louisiana. Now, you can add “National Historic Place” to the area’s long list of accolades. Recently, Ruston earned the distinction of having most of its downtown area added to the National Register of Historic Places.
78 downtown Ruston buildings are named on the National Registry – four of which are listed individually, including the Dixie Center for the Arts, the Federal Building, Ruston State Bank, and Ruston USO. This designation allows owners of income producing properties the opportunity to apply for Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credits. By combining the State Commercial Tax Credit and the Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, property owners have the potential to offset their rehabilitation costs by 45%.
The historic district extends north to south from Florida to Texas Streets and east to west from Bonner to Monroe Streets. This 18-block historic downtown district offers both residents and tourists a slice of life with specialty retail shops, restaurants, restored buildings, historic architecture and unique public art.
Farmerville Revitalizes its Downtown with New Development
Farmerville will launch a major downtown restoration program, adding new sidewalks, light poles, and a new irrigation system to water plants along sidewalks in downtown Farmerville- a popular cultural and commercial gathering spot. Downtown Farmerville will also add new parking on the west and northeast side of the Union Parish Courthouse. The revitalization project is expected to begin in 2018.
Additionally, an historic Farmerville building, which currently houses the Union Community Action organization, will soon be renovated and developed into the Union Parish Cultural District building. This exciting move compliments the new Union Museum of History and Arts located nearby.
Bastrop’s Main Street Program Preserves its Small Town Culture
Bastrop’s Courthouse Square lies at the center of its historic downtown area. The restored 1914 Morehouse Parish Courthouse anchors an eight-block retail, government, cultural and Main Street district in this small town of more than 10,500 residents. Its historic buildings still serve as the main gathering spot for events and entertainment.
Antiques stores, commercial businesses, quaint boutiques and government offices surround the Courthouse, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. New retail establishments keep the district vibrant. Roma Bistro, a full-service Italian restaurant, will soon open its doors in this historic district, adding more spice to the area’s southern food scene.
Another cultural touchstone that connects the Bastrop community is the Rose Theatre, which is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Rose was built in 1927 as an old vaudeville house. Years later it would become a movie theater; a popular hangout for locals until the late 1970s when it closed its doors. The Theater was reopened in 1985 as a community theater, home to the Cotton Country Players. Run by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers, the Rose hosts performing arts and musical events, including the upcoming Victory Belles from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on Sunday, July 2 at 2:00 P.M.
Bastrop is also home to the historic Snyder Museum and Creative Arts Center, housed in a circa 1929 home. Volunteers lead heritage appreciation tours using local artifacts from a bygone era. The beautiful gardens at the museum is a favorite venue for local weddings and events.
Another exciting preservation project is the restoration and adaptive reuse of the 1927 Bastrop High School, a National Register building once listed as one of the “Ten Most Endangered Historic Sites in Louisiana.” A public/private partnership converted the school into 60 affordable independent living units for senior citizens and has created 15 jobs in the process.
The project will increase the tax base, attract retirees to help certify Bastrop as a Louisiana retirement community and will likely lead to the development of related service businesses. The school’s original educational mission continues by offering classes to seniors in the library and by educating the community on the value of historic preservation.