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|Master plan points to economic development, unification|
Job creation and economic opportunity will be the top priorities over the next 20 years, according to the recently completed comprehensive plan for the city of Monroe.
City officials last week unveiled the first updated comprehensive plan for Monroe in more than 20 years. Copies are available at city hall for residents to view.
The city council is expected to adopt the revised comprehensive plan during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 13.
City officials, community and business leaders and representatives from New York's Peter J. Smith & Co. have been working on the comprehensive plan since early 2007.
From those meetings, one issue stood out: Monroe must be unified if it wants to attract new jobs and businesses to the community.
"If the influences that divide the city - race, economic status, educational attainment and residential location - can be overcome, everything else that holds the city back can be conquered," according to the comprehensive plan.
Many community meetings were held throughout the year. Most residents said they wanted a better looking city.
"Residents said the city should look better, look beautiful, its downtown and riverfront should be restored as the centerpiece of the city," according to the comprehensive plan.
For economic development, Smith's firm indicated that Monroe has made "space that could be used for industrial development." That area lies north of the Pecanland Mall area and west of Monroe Regional Airport.
"With ample access to the university, this area could serve as an incubator for university-related research and development," the comprehensive plan said.
Also, the city would need additional industrial park land, which could be located in the city and parish east of U.S. Highway 165 and south of Interstate 20.
The comprehensive plan also suggested the creation of a downtown marina, which has been a goal of Monroe's Downtown Economic Development District board.
A marina also could be established at the old Forsythe Boat Dock.
Smith's firm expects the city's retail services will continue to expand over the years.
"Primary retail, including mall stores, big box retail, auto dealers and chain stores of all kinds are foreseen to continue to expand in the existing retail core anchored by Pecanland Mall and outparcels," the plan said. "This development is potentially expanding to the south of I-20 and should be contained in this corridor."
Smith's firm provided the city with several renderings on how to transform DeSiard Street and South Second Street into a transportation hub for walkers, bicyclists, drivers and transit riders.
New buildings could be erected and scenic sidewalks with foliage could be established to improve the look of the area and increase traffic.
"The mix of uses including residential, retail and commercial could transform DeSiard into a lively, 24-hour corridor," the plan said. "Similarly, South Second Street would be developed as a gateway artery from the zoo to downtown."
For the downtown area, Smith's firm has recommended improving the Riverfront Village with galleries, shops and restaurants at street level and student, non-traditional artists' studios and loft spaces above.
"Nearby, a community cooperative could be established to house educational and community facilities for all levels and sectors of the community," the comprehensive plan stated.
Smith's firm also suggested the city build upward, or on top of existing buildings and renovate buildings instead of tearing them down.
Improving the downtown area in that manner and providing tax incentives to spur economic development would show the city is "ripe for private investment and for establishment of new traditional downtown arts and cultural uses," the plan said.
Another concept suggested by Smith's firm is to transform the Ouachita Parish Courthouse Annex parking lot into what would be called the Fort Miro Museum. Currently, the parking space is used by the Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office and other parish employees as well as the 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office.
The firm also suggested connecting Monroe Civic Center and City Hall into downtown to South Grand Street and the Ouachita Parish Courthouse. This route, called the "Civic Streetscape," could also have a new market square incorporated at its eastern end to provide a central place to sell agricultural products from throughout northeast Louisiana.
Enhancing access to the Ouachita River for recreation and entertainment is another top priority in revitalizing the city's downtown, according to the comprehensive plan.
Besides marinas and additional riverside dock space, Smith's firm said semi-permanent kiosks could be developed to accommodate small retail and refreshment operations.
"Bright banners and flags and food stands will add to the naturally magnetic quality of the water, drawing crowds of residents and visitors on nice days," the plan said. "Tour boats can offer natural and historic interpretive trips, brunch, dinner and entertainment cruises."
Also, Smith's firm believes the creation of a riverfront boardwalk would help reconnect the downtown with the river. This also would draw people to the riverfront where they could enjoy the view and frequent retail establishments.
South Monroe also could be revitalized, and Smith's firm believes there are plenty of opportunities to strengthen neighborhoods there through urban design.
"Monroe is at a juncture in its history where urban design can direct growth and revitalize the downtown area, neighborhoods and commercial areas as well as preserve existing built form and open spaces," according to the comprehensive plan. "City-wide issues such as the location of new streets; the realignment of existing streets; the location of new parks, trails and signatures elements and the refocusing of commercial areas to benefit the entire city should be addressed through the use of urban design.
"Monroe has an opportunity to build upon its existing character and composition as it redesigns itself to offer an organized, functional and attractive urban form. Enhancing the experience and identity of the city through design will improve economic opportunities, social interaction and quality of life for residents in the community."
Assets identified for the city of Monroe include the "beauty of the bayous and Ouachita River, strong ground transportation and network, well-educated workforce, presence of local colleges, adequate retail infrastructure, the Monroe Regional Airport and strong federal and state incentives."
Challenges Monroe will face as it works toward greater prosperity include community division, community identity and physical appearance, according the plan.
"The three Monroes (north Monroe, West Monroe and south Monroe) must be united with a strong urban core to function efficiently," the plan said.
Copies of the "One City, One Future" comprehensive plan for the city of Monroe are available for review at the Planning and Zoning Division office, located in the City Hall Annex at 3901 Jackson Street; and, on the city of Monroe's website at www.monroela.us.
The public is invited to review the plan and offer comments by mail, telephone or e-mail.
A public hearing will be held during the Monroe City Council's regular meeting, beginning at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13.