Just Imagine: Creating a better, more resilient future for SW Louisiana

Published 8:25 am Thursday, May 9, 2024

The transformation of an entire neighborhood doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s happening, as are more opportunities for enjoying local waterways and safe bike rides along wooded trails.      

Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana held its annual meeting last month and board member Willie Mount talked about milestones for Just Imagine SWLA, the 50-year resilience master plan seeded with a $2.5 million gift to The Foundation from David and Angela Filo after the hurricanes in 2020.

Last week, the Just Imagine plan was named one of the winners by the Congress for New Urbanism, a group that seeks to illuminate best practices for creating inclusive and resilient places.

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Mount’s report was a reminder of The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s $40 million investment through its Choice Neighborhood Initiative.  Since that time, local government and other nonprofits have added an additional $270,000 for the Just Imagine Catalytic Project titled “Mid-City Transformation.”

Mount also said that waterways are being connected around the city of Lake Charles. Sam Houston State Park will soon have a bike trail, and work has already begun on West Park in DeRidder.     

To get to this place, families, individuals and officials shared what was top of mind for them in an overall plan to create a better future, a more resilient future with the Just Imagine team for over a year. From these conversations, a plan was developed to deal with some of the area’s biggest challenges and opportunities. From that plan grew the list of 10 catalytic projects.

Jim Rock, Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana chair, said the Mid-City Transformation is for mixed-income residents and developed for mixed use.

This project is located roughly around the Prien Lake Mall, Lake Street and 18th Street. Demolition will not begin on the existing housing structures – most damaged by the hurricanes – until asbestos and archeological inspections are complete, around the end of the year.

“Mid-City Lofts at the corner of Lake and 18th should start before the end of the year,” Rock said.

All structures will be built to the new Fortified Gold Standard, which is a more resilient construction technique, and completing the project will take seven to eight years.     

“There will be some commercial space on the first floor of some of the structures, as well as a new park with public access,” Rock said. Pricing and other details are still in the planning stage.

There are plans for kayak launches in several areas of town, and these are just a piece of the Bayou Greenbelt catalytic project. The Community Foundation is participating in the installation of kayak launch areas at Riverside Park and at the McNeese campus. The city of Lake Charles is in the planning stages of building one north of 18th Street.

“During our Just Imagine community engagement, a number of people stated that what they love most about Southwest Louisiana is the people and its natural resources,” said Sara Judson, Community Foundation CEO.  “The vision of the Bayou Greenbelt is to utilize those resources and give more people access.”