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. Mature 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.