Eyesore no more: Work to begin soon on Port Wonder, Crying Eagle, parking garage

Standing in front of the lakefront Monday, Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said residents can expect to see work begin on several projects this year, including the $20 million Port Wonder educational center, the second Crying Eagle Brewing location and the recently-announced Lake Area Adventures kayak and boat rental space.
“It’s not just pie in the sky or wishful thinking anymore,” he said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards was scheduled to visit Lake Charles and tour the lakefront with the mayor, but canceled because of weather issues. Hunter said he is proud that most of these projects are being funded by locally-based companies and investors.
“The developers care about the legacy and the history that we’re making here on the lakefront with these projects,” he said.
The fully funded Port Wonder complex will house a new Children’s Museum and science and nature center run by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Officials broke ground on the project last June.
Port Wonder and the Crying Eagle lakefront location were announced before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 and Hurricane Laura’s landfall that August. The city also faced other disasters, such as Hurricane Delta’s landfall in October 2020, the winter storm and freeze last February, and the historic flooding last May.
Local officials gathered at the edge of North Beach Feb. 11 to announce Lake Area Adventures. The site will also house Paul’s Rib Shack, a local barbecue restaurant, and include a pier that is accessible to the public.
Hunter said the City Council must approve a request for proposals to have Lake Area Adventures as a tenant on the lakefront and to begin negotiations. The council could take action by late March or early April.
Hunter said the city also plans to dress up the parking for Lake Area Adventures, an area that is visible as soon as drivers get off the Interstate 10 bridge. He said plans are also being discussed to upgrade the beach volleyball area and have Lake Area Adventures administer a volleyball league.
Renovation work on the old Harrah’s Casino parking garage should begin soon, Hunter said. The structure suffered damage from Hurricane Rita’s 2005 landfall and has been an eyesore for many years. The City Council last week accepted a $6.17 million bid from Perc Development to work on phase two of the renovations. Perc is also the contractor for Crying Eagle’s lakefront development.
Hunter also mentioned an ongoing effort to relocate the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries administrative building from its lakefront location to Chennault International Airport. Construction on the new location continues. Once the old building is unoccupied, city officials will work with the state on either demolishing or repurposing it for additional development. He said the existing building had issues before Hurricane Laura’s landfall.
Once Port Wonder and Crying Eagle are up and running, the city plans to issue requests for proposals for the property on the east side of the parking garage, Hunter said. He said the focus would likely be more on food and beverage, rather than apartments alone.
“We’re OK with mixed use and some degree of residential, but we want to see retail,” Hunter said.
Hunter expressed optimism when talking about the future of the more than 100 acres of lakefront property the city owns, Hunter said.
“We’re talking about a lot of green space and a lot of opportunities for development,” he said. “This is only the start and the spark that’s going to create more.”

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