This week brings the formal dedication of the city’s East Bank District, which runs roughly down Barksdale Boulevard from the river and consists of the only thing close to a traditional downtown within the municipality’s borders. The city spent a considerable sum to narrow the street and renovate it into a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly avenue, hoping to anchor a district of food, drink, entertainment, and walk-in commercial establishments around the nexus of the East Bank Theatre, Flying Heart Brewery, and Li’l Italiano restaurant. Already it has brought back in Destiny Day Spa and Salon, which left years ago for the Louisiana Boardwalk.
The Boardwalk, which also will fall under new zoning regulations attached to the new district, was over a decade ago the city’s next try at importing something from the outside as a way to make itself more than just a bedroom neighborhood of Shreveport. Featuring now mainly chain stores from elsewhere, the outdoor mall has teetered on bankruptcy as the promise Bossier City politicians made, that if it offered enough items for sale people would come to spend the city into prosperity, never panned out.
These new regulations would permit carrying of open containers of alcohol from 10 AM until 2 AM the next day and would extend also to a remnant of the original strategy followed by the city, to jumpstart things by hosting as many casinos as possible. The oldest, the Horseshoe, and the newest, Margaritaville, the district envelops. Thus, one could careen south from Margaritaville to the Boardwalk, lose more money at the Horseshoe, then veer east down Barksdale, or in reverse, all with a drink in tow.
Further, the city installed a festival plaza near the restaurant and brewery. Of course, Bossier City being as it is it would have to waste some money somewhere, and the plaza’s appearance from afar like the skeletal remains of a building burned down long ago reflects perhaps not the wisest artistic choice, as motorists who are first-time visitors crawling through the area view it and wish someone had finished building that parking garage.
Another possibly questionable decision involves the district bordering one of the municipality’s least exalted neighborhoods. Now known as Old Bossier and including Bossier High School, while a number of successful long-time natives may have grown up there, it has gone considerably downhill since. Whether some of the neighborhoods less-motivated denizens will start cruising the district and what criminal behavior they may bring will prove a policing challenge that if addressed unsatisfactorily will severely stunt the district’s potential.
The Bossier City Council likely will pass the revised ordinance Tuesday that implements all of this that tries something different. For the first time in decades, Bossier City will promote the idea of a critical mass of home-grown establishments as a way to give itself a distinctive identity. Maybe it’s taken so long because the previous incarnation of this strategy, if unplanned, produced the Bossier Strip, which extended to the north eastward up East Texas Street. Watering holes featuring patrons with more tattoos than teeth and lots of inebriated men with high-and-tights, illicit gambling, and strip clubs (some willing to let guys touch them and then some) didn’t exactly scream family- or tourism-friendly.
But in its quest to carve out its own distinctive identity, this tactic has the most chance of success. City politicians have a history of overpromising, but this venture actually may turn out as something which Bossier citizens and outsiders want to visit because it’s uniquely Bossier, not because of something unrelated to Bossier that just happens to exist in Bossier.