May 2, 2010 12:16:00 AM
I am writing this letter to let you know of another bridge success story. I live in Shreveport, La., a mid-size town on the west side of the Red River. Across the river from us is Bossier City, about 75,000 strong. In the late 70s when I first arrived in this area no one would even get close to the river. For decades in the 40''s and 50''s Bossier had dumped raw sewage in the river. It was unusable, and for most of the year, there were parts of the river that you could almost walk across. Certainly nothing to be proud of.
Then J. Bennett Johnston and some other Washington folks decided we needed dams on the river. People thought they were crazy. "What a stupid waste of money and resources" everyone said. (much like what I heard years ago about the Tenn-Tom Waterway)
We got our dams--the river filled and there were concerted efforts to clean it up. (The dumping had stopped years ago.) All of a sudden people were on the river fishing, boating, skiing.
Back to the bridge. Shortly after all this the Shreveport Regional Arts Council got a grant to use for art in downtown Shreveport. I don''t really know all the details -- and they are not important -- but we ended up with an artist coming to town and putting neon lights on our dilapidated downtown bridge -- NEON LIGHTS! Everybody (including me at the time) thought this was absurd. We were embarrassed and all the naysayers complained about the use of the money.
Then a little company called United Parcel Service came to town and photographed our "embarrassment" for their worldwide calendar. The calendar went to millions of their customers in hundreds of countries. All of a sudden people knew where Shreveport was. And it was the 80s --the worst economic time ever for Shreveport because of the loss of the oil and gas industry.
People came to town, asked questions, looked at sites, looked at what we had to offer. Things started happening. Developers saw the opportunities that existed on our riverfront.
We now have a Louisiana Boardwalk on the Bossier side, anchored by the Bass Pro Outlet. The complex has retail stores, cinemas, clubs and restaurants. On the Shreveport side, we have a Red River District with clubs and restaurants. There is now a permanent festival area for the city to use, a beautiful park with fountains designed for children. A million-dollar hands-on science center and Imax theater. We also now have five casinos on the river, all of them within walking distance of--you guessed it--the NEON BRIDGE. Would all of this happened without the bridge? Maybe, but how long would it have taken? The grant for the art is what brought the attention to our little dead downtown area, and the rest is just history.