Just Imagine: Moving forward with lakefront development

Published 7:46 pm Sunday, June 5, 2022

Nic Hunter is the mayor of the city of Lake Charles.

One of the hallmarks of Southwest Louisiana, often referred to as Sportsman’s Paradise, is the abundance of waterways that run through our communities. Rivers, lakes, bayous, all emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, call to us all.
The Lake Charles Waterfront is the region’s largest untapped asset for quality of life and economic development. Sitting undeveloped for more than a decade following Hurricane Rita in 2005, we are thrilled to be bringing Port Wonder to life. A true private-public partnership, this $20+ million project will bring a state-of-the-art Children’s Museum and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Science and Nature Center to the front door of Lake Charles.

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When we announced Port Wonder in November of 2018, we boldly stated this project would be the spark needed to bring additional projects to life along the northern shore of our lake. A year later, we joined with the Avery family, who has a proven record of success, to announce a lakefront location of their popular Crying Eagle Restaurant and Microbrewery. In November 2021, we were thrilled to announce another local investment in a lakefront location for Lake Area Adventures. The Lake Area Adventures project will include kayak and paddle boat rentals, Paul’s Rib Shack, and other lakeside recreation opportunities.

Additional waterfront development will continue to build on these recent announcements. We’ve only begun! A number of success stories from around the nation give us inspiration as we move forward with pursuing additional projects for our lakefront. For example, the San Antonio River Walk is a world-renowned destination that almost never existed. After a tragic and devastating flood in 1921, flood control measures were designed, including plans to cover the entire river walk area with concrete. The area was considered dangerous, but the vision of a group of local women and an esteemed architect saved this area and the eventual development of the
River Walk. A number of flood control projects were completed, with the ultimate goal of creating opportunities for development and access to the river. In 1946, the first restaurant on the river opened and development of the centerpiece of San Antonio has continued since. Roughly 14 million people visit the San Antonio River Walk each year with an annual economic impact of 3.5 billion dollars!\

Today, the Detroit Riverfront is a thriving destination visited by three million people per year. It is an economic driver comprised of three and a half miles of connected parks and greenways. However, back in 2003, the riverfront was a disconnected, largely deserted area with a few scattered warehouses. A private-public partnership brought to life by the City of Detroit, General Motors and The Kresge
Foundation was the driving force of a reimagined and now bustling attraction. It took one significant project to spark future developments and now the riverfront is undergoing an expansion to reach a total of five miles. The riverfront features three connections into nearby neighborhoods, parks, restaurants, shops, and much more.

Just imagine the potential usage and enjoyment of pedestrian and biking paths along our lakefront stretching into the heart of downtown Lake Charles and beyond! Just imagine bringing back the tradition of waterfront recreation, dining, and water-based transportation. A water taxi could one day make several stops along key points, giving locals and visitors a unique, unmatched experience.

Waterfront Development is one of 10 catalytic projects in the Just Imagine SWLA 50-year Resilience Master Plan. Learn more about all 10 projects by visiting www.justimagineswla.org and by attending a public meeting:
Monday, June 6, Cash and Carry, Lake Charles, 6-8 p.m.
Tuesday, June 7, West-Cal Event Center, Sulphur, 6-8 p.m.
Wednesday, June 8, Grand Lake High School Gym, Grand Lake, 5-7 p.m.