Residents get a view of proposed Just Imagine projects envisioned for SW La.

Published 4:16 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Residents gathered at the Lake Charles Civic Center Tuesday to view 10 projects and choose which ones they believed could best jumpstart economic growth, improve infrastructure and quality of life in Southwest Louisiana.

It was the first of three community meetings scheduled this week for the second step of Just Imagine SWLA, an effort to spearhead a 50-year master resilience plan in Calcasieu and Cameron parishes. Community meetings last November were part of step one, with residents in Lake Charles, Sulphur and Grand Lake sharing goals they envisioned over the long term.

The Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana brought in Urban Design Associates, a Pittsburgh-based consultant, to aid in the Just Imagine SWLA effort. Feedback from last year’s meetings and other sources were used to come up with 10 “catalytic” projects. Some include mixed income housing, coastal risk reduction, waterfront development, development along the Nellie Lutcher Cultural District, resilience districts for McNeese State University and Chennault International Airport and addressing the overwhelming number of vacant and adjudicated properties.

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Megan O’Hara with Urban Design Associates said five of the 10 projects connect to Bayou Greenbelt, a concept that would connect several bodies of water in a 23-mile loop. Officials said it could spur economic growth and increase neighborhood values within Southwest Louisiana, a community that remains mired in recovery from Hurricanes Laura and Delta, which made landfall in August and October of 2020.

Erica Radde said she was interested in seeing more access to waterfront activities.

“That’s our biggest asset here,” she said.

Radde’s son, Preston, 16, said he wants to see more shuttles or bus lines across the city to access the downtown district.

“I just like the idea of getting together a big group of friends and we wouldn’t all have to drive in separate cars,” he said.

Preston said the city also could benefit from more tech-related industries.

Faith Dalton and Avonlea Cooper, both seniors at McNeese State University, took feedback on the McNeese resilience district. They said residents showed an interest in connecting McNeese with the downtown district.

“A lot of people were comparing Lafayette’s culture that they have around campus and saying why don’t we have that,” Cooper said. “It gives me hope for jobs around here and staying here.”

Braylon Harris said all 10 ideas have potential. Housing and a community resilience hub that could shelter residents during a disaster are the two ideas he supports the most.

“I think they are the necessities of the bunch,” he said. “Navigating those priorities is going to be very key. I hope the ideas we can’t do aren’t just thrown in the trash.”

Step two of Just Imagine SWLA will continue through April, O’Hara said. The third step, set for May through August, will decide which projects are the most feasible and the most important. The focus will also shift to matching priority projects to potential funding sources.

The next public meeting is set for 5-7 p.m. today at Grand Lake High School, 1039 La. 384. The third meeting is 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the West Cal Event Center, 401 Arena Road, Sulphur.