PORT ALLEN — The leaders of a little city across the Mississippi River from Louisiana’s capital say they hope to create an appealing identity akin to that of other small cities in the region such as New Roads and the antique district of Denham Springs.
“When I think of Port Allen, I think of (the Mississippi River) bridge and concrete,” said Scott Gaudin. “We have no sense of place.”
But Gaudin and the rest of the city’s Master Plan Steering Committee are finalizing plans to change that through revitalization efforts — or rather, the creation — of a thriving downtown district.
“Thriving cities have thriving downtowns,” said Gaudin, who also serves as chairman of the Board of Directors for the West Baton Rouge Parish Chamber of Commerce. “When I think of what Port Allen downtown needs to be, I think of New Roads.”
Gaudin says a face-lift of Port Allen’s Court Street is now the primary focus of the committee’s efforts.
Court Street is already a fairly popular business corridor in the city that stretches across La. 1 toward Port Allen’s east and western city limits.
The street’s east side, which dead-ends into the city’s pavilion of the levee-top park, is lined with an eclectic mix of local businesses, a few residential homes and Port Allen’s City Hall. West of La. 1, Court Street is sprinkled with a few more local businesses and residential homes before it ends at La. 415.
“We want Court Street to be Port Allen’s sense of identity, its focal point,” Gaudin said.
Gaudin said the committee hopes to enhance Court Street within the next year through landscape beautification and signage to encourage more walkability.
Proposed changes will have to be approved by the City Council which also has to allocate any funding for the various endeavors.
The City Council over the past year has turned some of its focus toward attracting more people to what’s considered its “downtown area” through its funding of community events, such as last year’s Christmas Bonfest, and expanding its annual Fourth of July celebration.
The council also dedicated funds through its partnership with the West Baton Rouge Parish Council to extend the parish’s levee-top park.
The revitalization will initially be focused more on Court Street’s eastern side — closest to City Hall — where several business owners support the changes but also harbor their own ideas about the revamp.
Jason Hammack, owner of Court Street Cafe, would like to see the street’s utility lines buried and replaced with more aesthetically pleasing light fixtures to give Court Street the appeal of a small-business district.
But he feels a few of the street’s dilapidated buildings and outmoded structures need remodeling, as well, if the city hopes to truly give the street the face-lift it needs.
Hammack would like to see Court Street take on the character and feel of Denham Springs’ downtown Antique District.
“Whoever led that, they hit it right,” he said about Denham Springs. “They did a very good job of figuring out what needed to be done with that strip. But those were all existing buildings.”
“The right person had to find the right developer and the right small-town tenants to accomplish that,” he added.
Hammack’s next-door neighbor, Bob Aucoin, shares Hammack’s views on what is needed.
Aucoin, who opened The Floral Boutique on Court Street in June, is hoping the thoroughfare can slightly mirror Baton Rouge’s retail/residential hybrid, Perkins Rowe.
“If we could get the D’Agostino building near the intersection of Court and Jefferson streets restored, that could be an awesome little hub area,” Aucoin said. “That building could house other small businesses. And I’d loved to see some loft apartments upstairs above them.”
Gaudin said he has already been approached by a few private investors who see the potential in the city’s effort.
But he added, “Port Allen will never be Perkins Rowe. But it can be an abbreviated version of it.”
The more large-scale changes Hammack spoke of would likely need the investment from the private sector, which jump-started much of downtown Baton Rouge’s revitalization a decade ago.
However, Hammack is adamant about the need for more small-business entrepreneurs on Court Street instead of commercial franchises.
“Chains don’t lend character to small towns,” he said. “Locally-owned businesses do.”
Follow Terry Jones on Twitter @tjonesreporter.