Where Is Cross Bayou Park We Passed in 1996?
As the campaign kicks off to pass the 186 million dollar bond issue, I still have serious questions about things voters were promised decades ago.
In 1996, Shreveport voters passed a $5 million dollar bond issue for Cross Bayou development. What has happened with that plan? We don't have any development on Cross Bayou. We do have a Convention Center and a hotel. But voters were promised a park. That has never happened.
In that election, voters said "no" to a zoo, but the Cross Bayou measure passed by 98 votes. It was pretty close, but it passed. It provided $5 million and that was a 20 year bond. That 20 years is up and it has me wondering what do we have for that $5 million. How much property did we buy. Is the $5 million gone?
I've done some digging and found some interesting facts you might want to know about.
First, we got the Secretary of State's Office to pull the exact language from the bond election:
So the city was given the authority to acquire or improve land for a "public park". It's been 23 years and we don't have a public park. But we have bought up several pieces of land. The city has also negotiated for other parcels along Cross Bayou. I want to add here that I think it was genius decades ago to buy up all the property along the Red River. The city has control of that valuable property and eventually paved the way for the first casino in the local market. It also means Shreveport is one of only a few cities in the country with so much publicly owned riverfront land.
In researching this story, we found this in the minutes of the Shreveport Council from March 11, 2003
At the time, Mayor Keith Hightower addressed the Council about some of the public concern about the convention center and the plan for Cross Bayou.
Back in 1996 when Mayor Williams came to the citizens and asked for a bond issue to be passed for park use along Cross Bayou, that proposition had been on a ballot prior to that and it was titled "Cross Bayou Project" or something of that nature. We came back and used "park use" hopefully so that money could be obtained through a bond issue to inventory property so that we could control waterfront property much as Administrations prior to the Mayor Williams had done along the riverfront itself. That bond issue did pass, it put $5 million dollars in the coffers to be able to go and acquire land. As soon as that happened, Mayor Williams got right to work and I was on the Council at the time and he bought several pieces of property down along Spring Street to be used for public inventory, for public purpose down the road, no plan ever specifically in what we were going to do with any of that property, but we know that we wanted to control all of the riverfront all the way to Common Street.
The former Mayor went on to say:
We are going to have people that want to operate private businesses along Cross Bayou that are going to want to know, can I locate on this property. At some point, I think we do have to sit down and determine is that property for sale, is that property for lease, is that property something that needs to be reimbursed to a park fund if we are to partner up with somebody or can we partner up with somebody to enhance any public space that may eventually be a park or is the Convention Center a part of a park, is a museum part of a park, is a library, is whatever use may come about, a part of the eventual park. And I don't think that that is any different than going to the mall in Washington, when you look at the mall, is the monument a part of the park?
Former CAO Tom Dark is also quoted in the minutes saying "we are convinced that the area, if developed properly, has the potential to be as important to our city in the future as the existing riverfront areas already are."
Dark is right. The potential is there. But will people support any proposed development along Cross Bayou? The Gateway Development Consortium group has proposed a 1.5 billion dollar complex at Cross Bayou that would include a State Office Building, a charter school, retail space, housing and much more.
Will people move to the riverfront? Many local residents claim it's a pipe dream and it won't work.
I hope we will all stop and think about this question. If leaders have a company willing to invest hundreds of millions in our city, is it the responsibility of Council Members or the Mayor to say: "no thanks"? They must investigate this opportunity. They must try to bring in jobs and development. That is what they are charged with doing. But they will also be held responsible if this is a failure.
What you really should be angry about is what has been happening over the past 20 years? We have no park at Cross Bayou. We voted for that in 1996. Who has failed to deliver and why? This one vote should make us all very hesitant to believe government promises.
In the Parks and Recreation Master Plan for 2006 – 2020 we also found some interesting tidbits.
The top priority cited in this report was a zoo. Leaders also put a zoo on the 96 ballot, and it failed big time. The report also cited a need for a large indoor area that could support boxing programs and other special events.
Here's the part of this report that local leaders should pay attention to:
The addition of an indoor arena facility to house larger events was indicated as a need. This type of facility could be considered in the future as a complementary facility to the new convention center that has recently opened.
In the North Shreveport Regional Development Plan which was finished in May of 1998, Cross Bayou and Market Street/Spring Street is noted as a "park environment gateway opportunity." The report called for completion of the proposed linear park that connects to the Riverfront. Maintaining the natural environment of Cross Bayou and refurbishing the bridges to include new lighting and possibly flag poles or monuments to define the area as part of Market Street.