Gretna officials are working with the Tulane University School of Architecture on a plan that will guide the evolution and development of the city’s downtown area for decades to come.
The effort, called Gretna Downtown 2020, is using public input and the assistance of the Tulane Regional Urban Design Center to try to make sure the area around Huey P. Long Avenue and the riverfront evolves to have a consistent visual character, with public spaces that can be used for special events and daily recreation, and that it is able to accommodate not just automobiles but bikes and pedestrians as well.
The $30,000 study is funded by the Mayor’s Office and City Councilman Joe Marino, whose district includes the study area, which lies between the Mississippi River levee and Fourth Street.
There have been two public input sessions so far, and Tulane planners are expected to submit a first draft for more input from city officials and residents early next year.
Nick Jenisch, the project manager with the Urban Design Center, said the two meetings were well-attended, with at least 50 participants each, and that public input is crucial to creating a strong plan that reflects what residents want. He said residents talked about the importance of streetscape improvements, activating Huey P. Long Avenue on a consistent basis and adding benches and shade.
He said some residents want the Huey P. Long neutral ground to be an active park space while others want to keep it passive. There has been a lot of support for street-level retail shops, cafes and restaurants that open onto the sidewalk.
Marino, who spearheaded the creation of design guidelines for structures in the city’s two historic districts and is pushing to get the downtown area accepted into the Louisiana Main Street program, said Downtown 2020 will help the city get the most out of the riverfront, the first two blocks of Huey P. Long Avenue and the Jefferson Memorial Arch.
“Looking for places to fit trees into the cityscape is always a priority of mine,” he said.
Mayor Belinda Constant said one element in the study that jumped out at her is identifying all the gateways to downtown and how they can be better marked to let visitors know where the district is.
As it stands today, she said, “if you travel the West Bank Expressway, you don’t even know we exist.”
While the city is known for its annual Gretna Heritage Festival and weekly farmers market, Constant said identifying improvements to public spaces for everyday use is just as important.
“What we’re looking at is improving our quality of life daily, not just for the people who live here, but also people who want to come and do business here,” she said.
“If you’re attentive to the streetscape of your community and the whole look of the city, it draws people to the city, and that’s reflected in your property values.”
Constant said the plan will map out infrastructure investments and will help her and future administrations make those decisions less susceptible to being influenced by political considerations.
Matthew Martinec, assistant to the mayor for special projects, said the plan may focus on downtown but that it has ramifications for the health of the rest of the city.
“This is the beginning of a much broader community conversation we’ll be embarking on in the coming years,” he said.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.