Economic Revitalization Is Reshaping Shreveport, Louisiana

Story by Felicia Persaud Photos by Mary Gallagher

Eleven years ago, in 1992, the unemployment rate in Shreveport, Bossier County of Louisiana was a whopping 10.2 percent. Today the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the rate has dropped to 6.5 percent. And though 9/11 may have sent some economic shock waves through this city, Shreveport, Bossier County is definitely still a strong economy with every sign that it will only get stronger. Commercial and home construction is up; hotel/motel revenue is up as are retail sales and car and truck purchases.

A major economic revitalization effort is on the way in this city and coupled with the sites and culinary delights, Shreveport/Bossier is definitely on its way to putting itself on the national tourism map. Under the administration of Mayor Keith Hightower, several major projects have taken root that have definitely brought money to the city’s coffers. In 2001, the downtown Shreveport area got a major boost with the completion of the Hollywood Casino and Hotel and Harrah’s Casino Hotel. Together, they increased city property tax revenues by more than $2 million annually and provided more than 2,000 new jobs for the community.

The art deco influenced Hollywood Casino and Hotel offers 403-suite style rooms and a spectacular view of the city, particularly at night, a casino with more than 1,400 slots and 68 gaming tables and three-story entertainment pavilion featuring a variety of restaurants, cafes and cocktail lounges and spa During our visit young dancers and singers put on a Las Vegas-style show for patrons, complete with the enthusiastic look-alikes of Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Madonna and Marilyn Monroe in the Celebrity Lounge.

The 24-hour casino is a major tourism booster for the city but its over-21 policy can be taken a bit too far, especially if you’re far from 21 but lucky for you, don’t look it yet. The security there seems to take their jobs more serious than the FBI and spent a long time peering at my ID before deciding they had never seen one like it therefore there was no way they’d let me in. So much for my dream of winning big!

Other developments in Shreveport include the Housing Authority of Bossier City’s $30 million plan to demolish and rebuild Riverwood Apartments for low-to-moderate-income residents. A 300,000 square-foot convention center is also billed to be open next year and an 18-hole Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and upscale-gated subdivision is planned near the intersection of Swan Lake Road and Airline Drive. The Isle of Capri Casino is in the planning stages of $50 million of improvements while Casino Magic recently went through a $25 million renovation that changed its name to Boomtown. A long-vacant tract in the downtown district is being converted to economy suites. A fun and funky new arts district called “West Edge,” is also set to open and then there’s Bossier City’s version of an entertainment district – the privately developed Louisiana Red Riverwalk.

Recently opened, in the summer of 2002, the Red River District is like riverfront renewals in Boston, Wilmington and Georgetown-D.C. Covering over 100,000 square feet and created to the tune of $23 million, the district is already home to several swanky restaurants, coffee and specialty bars and stores offering an eclectic array of everything Louisiana. The district – located just across from the Hollywood Casino – tenants include The Signature Shop, touting everything from clothing to accessories to delicacy gift bags. Then there is Ya Ya’s, with handcrafted jewelry loaded with southern charm. After shopping, patrons can make their way around the corner to Wet Willies, which has become renown in the south for its frozen drinks, especially its daiquiris. The best thing about Willies is you can sample the house specialties for free, and with names like ‘Sex on the Beach,’ and ‘Monkey Shine,’ who could resist?

As your stomach starts to grumble, make your way to a lineup of the districts variety of restaurants. MacArthur’s Chop and Crab House was the stop for Shrimp Macarthur’s – shrimp stuffed with crabmeat served with mashed potatoes – which was absolutely mouth-watering. The carnivores went for MacArthur’s signature prime rib, pan-seared and then slowly roasted on their wood-fire grill. Mary Gallagher, AKA our critic, found it very odd that the restaurant did not serve bread of any kind, a corporate policy (?), but perhaps they’ve remedied that by now.

Stuffed to the hilt but still craving more of the Red River’s hospitality it’s time to sit back and laugh your head off at the Funny Bone Comedy Club. Open Wednesdays thru Sundays, the club is getting mainstream attention and accolades. USA Today has placed Funny Bone on its Top 10 Comedy Club in the nation. Featured comedian of our evening visit was Ron White who had the entire club in fits with his act. With high quality of comedians the Funny Bone has performing, this joint will definitely be turning more mainstream heads in the months to come.

In Shreveport’s historic district, Jimmy Harris is adding to the city’s economic revitalization with his bed and breakfast. Though Harris, a small businessman, speaks candidly about the difficulties he endured in getting licensed as a B&B, there is no denying his success with the homey 2439 Fairfield.

We toured and admired everything from the exquisite collector’s style d├ęcor in public rooms to a variety of Victorian and other styled bedrooms. The wonderful aroma of a gourmet home-cooked breakfast wafts from the kitchen and is served to guests in the Vergie Lou Morning Room where one can gaze out at the landscaped English rose and herb gardens surrounded by oak trees. Harris’ conveniently located B & B is definitely worth experiencing a stay.

Other entrepreneurs are available to cater to visitors seeking the nature experience in Shreveport. The captain of the Spirit of the Red River Cruise boat will happily take you on a sail down the Red River as he gives an entertaining history lesson from within the 35-passenger boat. See the Old Railroad Swing Bridge as you navigate the river’s murky waters and up the tree-lined embankment in a quest for creepy alligators or snakes that call the Red River home.

Norris Canoe Outfitters takes you even closer to the nature experience with their canoe trips up the bayou. The canoes are quite comfortable and though, especially if you’re a novice, canoeing can at times be exhausting, the peace and tranquility coupled with the incredible lush vegetation makes this a once in a life time experience.

Other business owners, like Monjunis, have seen both the good and bad times over their 80 year history. The original Monjunis was built in the early 1920’s. Today, with its expanded menu, the taste of good Italian home cooking as Mama ‘Monjuni’ made it still prevails in their specialty dishes – especially the chicken lasagna and the fettuccini alfredo.

Areas of Interest

Amidst all that revitalization, there is still so much more to see. Of course there’s no denying that Louisiana and Mardi Gras are synonymous. In Shreveport, the rich culture of Mardi Gras or ‘Fat Friday,’ celebration is also an integral part of the city’s 200,145 residents. On August 8, 2002, a museum aimed at preserving this rich heritage was opened. The new Ark-La-Tex Mardi Gras Museum greets visitors with a frolicking Jester sculpture at the entrance. Located at 2101 East Texas Street, Bossier City, the museum offers flamboyant and rich costumes of past Mardi Gras as well as life-like mannequins and floats. You re able to study the displays up close without the celebration crowds and appreciate their intricate detail and unique themes. The hours of operation are Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The Southern University Museum of Art at Shreveport, 610 Texas Street, is another worthwhile place to visit, especially if you’re a history buff. Here you can experience African and African American art at its best – even the works of the late Dr. John Biggers – since the museum is home of more than 300 pieces of original works. You’ll understand a bit of the black ‘Holocaust’ as you gaze at the glass-encased shackles of a former slave.

The Ark-La-Tex Antique and Classic Vehicle Museum is heaven for the antique car buff. Located in the original building of a 1920’s car dealership, the museum is home to dozens of classic automobiles including cars, motorcycles and fire trucks. The museum also acts as a broker in the sales of fine collectable vehicles. An antique car would be a great Shreveport souvenir!

Your visit is not complete until you tour the 67,000 square feet Sci-Port Discovery Center. It’s one of the best interactive experiences I’ve ever had. Opened in 1998, the center features more than 200 exhibits and interactive experiences that are both educational and amusing. See your hair shoot straight up as your body gets a minor jolt of electricity or how about experiencing a bed of nails? The IMAX Dome Theater gives the feeling of being right in the midst of the on-screen action as you sit back in this 180-seat theater with its 60-foot wrap-around screen.

The American Rose Center: Located at 8877 Jefferson-Paige Road off the Interstate 20, the American Rose Center and its members encourage you to “stop and smell the roses”, America’s national flower. Here are over 40 acres with 400 varieties of over 20,000 roses including the All-American, single petal and miniature. The gift shop carries more rose scented and themed items than you could ever imagine exist!

The Strand Theater: Situated in the heart of downtown Shreveport, the Strand Theater is one of the city’s historic landmarks. Built in 1925, the theater offers artistic entertainment year round. Whether its ballet or a musical, this imposing edifice is truly worth a visit.

For more information or to learn more about business opportunities or a holiday package, contact the Shreveport Convention and Tourist Bureau at 800-551-8682 or log on to www.shreveport-bossier.org.

Some of the featured areas of interest can be contacted as follows:
The Hollywood Casino: www.hollywoodcasino.com or 1-877-602-0711
The American Rose Center: www.ars.org or 318-938-5402
The Strand Theater: www.thestrandtheatre.com or 318-226-1481
Sci Port Discovery Center: www.sciport.org or 318-424-3466
Spirit of the Red River Cruise: 318-424-3576
Norris Canoe Outfitters: 318-949-9522
Mardi Gras Museum: 318-746-0252
Fairfield Bed & Breakfast: www.shreveportbedandbreakfast.com 318-424-2424
Monjuni’s Restaurant: 318-797-9999

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