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Louisiana Boardwalk depends upon Red River Entertainment District

The Louisiana Boardwalk is off to an excellent start, but is it inherently able to deliver on its promises of economic development?

Large sales numbers may be nice, but they constitute just one part of the development puzzle. To understand the situation in this metropolitan area, we must take into account two facets.

Beginning with the most parochial, we must note that there exists a fundamental mismatch between the philosophy behind the Louisiana Boardwalk and the current main economic engine of Bossier City – gambling (sorry, “gaming;” gambling is supposed to be suppressed according to our state Constitution). The Boardwalk gets marketed as an all-inclusive, “family” destination. By contrast, gambling is, by its nature, an adult vice.

The dream behind the Boardwalk includes the attraction of people of all ages to find amusement through various outlets. But we must face the fact that only a small percentage of its patrons are going to come from outside the metropolitan area just to go to it. The main reason outsiders people visit Bossier City is the casinos.

To the majority of people who come from, for example, the Metroplex, shopping, dining, movies, clubs, etc. is something they can do at home. In Bossier City, then, they try to maximize their opportunities to do the one thing they cannot at home, gamble. Further, not to sound denigrating, but most people who like to gamble enough to build vacations around it are not generally going to be as interested in raising children or bringing them along with them on their gambling sprees.

In short, the philosophy behind the Boardwalk matches up poorly with the intentions of the main source of visitors from outside the area. Since it will attract few on its own merits, there is only one real way it can spur economic growth without otherwise poaching customers from existing Bossier City business – getting them from Shreveport.

This brings us to the larger point – the economic fortunes of the cities are too intertwined to make Bossier City beggaring Shreveport a viable development strategy. Another current fact of life around the area is that one takes away the casinos and Bossier City is mainly a bedroom community to Shreveport. Subtracting casinos from both sides of the river, while Bossier Parish’s population is 39 percent of Caddo’s, it only has 23 percent as many jobs as Caddo (with casinos, the figure rises to 28 percent; 2002 data). Further, per capita Caddo’s property assessments are only 83 percent of Bossier’s – because with a higher proportion of property being the more valuable commercial kind in Caddo, the per person rate becomes lower.

That means, in the final analysis, drawing in sales tax revenues from Caddo residents only marginally improves Bossier City’s position – because Bossier depends upon Caddo’s economy and taking dollars out of that economy harms Bossier. Thus, pursuit of an economic development strategy in isolation within the metropolitan area will have less chance of success.

Interestingly, Shreveport’s troubled Red River Entertainment District presents a better fit with the dominant gambling industry with a more “adult” theme to it and is located within easy walking distance of the casinos. It has had its own problems, however.

First, unfortunately people in this area of the country are lazy when it comes to walking. It does get hotter in the summer but people in large cities across the country think nothing of walking several blocks from parking or mass transportation to a destination. But the mentality that one has to be able to hop out of his car and walk briefly to an entrance has a strong hold in the south and even if the District claims there are 2,000 parking spots nearby, in reality considering the District and casinos are crowded at the same time (night, especially weekend) within a block of it there might be 150 spaces.

Second, there is a perception of a lack of safety mainly because of crowds of youngsters nearby and past unfortunate events such as shootings in the area. Doing such things as blocking off Commerce Street and increased police presence have been implemented but the reputation lingers.

The Boardwalk has dealt with these potential problems by having its own large parking garage next to the facility (courtesy of Bossier City) and implementing a code of conduct (which already has spawned urban legends). But these have an effect of reducing synergy with the surrounding environment, and only by connecting it to the larger world will it bring Bossier City its envisioned tax receipts.

Therefore, the Boardwalk would maximize its economic growth potential by being connected not just to the District, but the casinos downstream. Talk of a water taxi across the Red River should be supplemented with improving pedestrian facilities across the Long-Allen Bridge and access from it to each area, even including surface mass transit. The Bossier “Boardwalk” could be extended under I-20 to the casinos.

In short, this will require cooperation between Shreveport and Bossier City, not a dominant theme between the two in the past. Seeing the big picture, not building a hotel here and providing infrastructure there without a vision based on limits and reality, is needed, and that would require thinking atypical of past political leadership on both sides

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