Imagine: A Strong Downtown Shows Community Quality of Life – American Press

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Editor’s note: This is the third in an 11-part series detailing the last 10 catalyst projects of the Just Imagine 50-year resilience plan. All projects are based on input from area residents, high school students, business and nonprofit leaders, and elected officials. The final three community engagement sessions where residents can give feedback on the projects will take place June 6-8.

Mike Danahay is Mayor of Sulfur.

Many of us have fond memories of a bygone era of the “old” downtown areas of our communities. Growing up in Sulfur, the shopping experiences at Serices, Eties and Burton Hardware in downtown Sulfur are still talked about today. At the time, these neighborhoods were the economic and social epicentres of our community. It felt like everything was downtown. And so on until the explosive growth of American suburbs. In the 1960s, when the urban population began to move to the suburbs, so did the businesses that made our downtown neighborhoods economically healthy. By the 1970s, downtown neighborhoods had become, for the most part, economic ghost towns. In some municipalities, there have been many starts and stops to revitalize downtown areas, but most have ended with unsuccessful results.

From the 1990s, cities and towns began to rediscover the importance of their city centers. They recognized the historic aspect of their downtown neighborhoods as well as the great economic opportunities for development in their communities. For example, where could a promising new entrepreneur open a new storefront at minimal cost, but in a historically economically disadvantaged downtown area? This interest has sparked a different approach to how to revitalize our downtown neighborhoods. City governments along with citizen groups and civic organizations have begun developing master plans for downtown revitalization and seeking sources of financial revenue to support this movement. Some state and federal financial allocations, though limited, have been made available for such efforts. The creation of public and private partnerships has yielded a new synergy of cultural and business opportunities in our downtown neighborhoods.

Why are strong downtown neighborhoods necessary? Simply put, a healthy and vibrant downtown demonstrates the economic health and quality of life of a community. A good example of such success is downtown Greenville, South Carolina. Since the 1970s, the City of Greenville has invested in its downtown core to make Main Street a destination. Today, the quaint, tree-lined street is a place to live, dine, shop, enjoy outdoor spaces and public art, attend cultural and sporting events, and easily stroll around on foot and by bicycle. By engaging in the long-term planning process to improve downtown Greenville, the city has created a quality of life that retains residents, promotes tourism and attracts economic opportunity.

The good news, Lake Charles and our neighboring towns have invested in creating vibrant downtowns. After Hurricane Rita in 2005, former Mayor Randy Roach and the Lake Charles City Council saw an opportunity to revitalize downtown. A master plan was drawn up and a bond issue was voted on by voters. The construction of pedestrian-friendly features such as sidewalks, benches, green features, lighting, and other pedestrian-friendly amenities has attracted new businesses and people to the area.

The Strong Downtowns Catalytic Project provides a framework for Lake Charles to pursue revitalization. It’s also a guide for neighboring communities like DeQuincy and Vinton to develop streetscapes and gathering places to initiate a resurgence in their downtown neighborhoods. With the current thriving businesses in Downtown Sulfur, we are well positioned to capitalize on the concepts of Strong Downtowns. By incorporating strategies such as adding trees and greenery, improving walking, and welcoming amenities like outdoor dining, our downtown neighborhoods will continue to pay dividends to the community.

Strong Downtowns is one of ten catalyst projects in the Just Imagine SWLA 50-year Resilience Master Plan. At Sulfur, we recognize and invite the effort to create and implement a comprehensive master plan to create a strong downtown in our city. Learn more about Strong Downtowns and the other projects by visiting www.justimagineswla.org and attending a public meeting:

Monday, June 6, Cash and Carry, Lake Charles, 6-8 p.m.

Tuesday, June 7, West-Cal Event Center, Sulfur, 6-8 p.m.

Wednesday, June 8, Grand Lake High School Gymnasium, Grand Lake, 5-7 p.m.

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