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Imagine: Connecting Casinos to Prosperous Downtown – American Press

Nicole Miller is the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury Program Manager and Chair of the Disaster Housing Administration and Recovery Board for the Lake Charles Housing Authority.

Lake Charles attracts many visitors due to its magnificent and thriving modern casinos. Equally appealing is the city’s eclectic and historic downtown, showcasing our unique culture and offering views of our beautiful lakefront. What if these two gems could be connected by a bustling city centre?

What if the journey from the casino to the city center offered a diversified housing stock and unique shopping locations?

Could we create a destination nestled between our eclectic historic downtown and our sleek modern downtown?

The Mid-City Neighborhood Transformation Project seeks to implement this dream as one of 10 catalyst projects developed under the Just Imagine SWLA 50-year Resilience Master Plan. The project will allow residents of the area surrounding Prien Lake Mall (from Sallier to Prien) to illustrate in detail the vision of the BEST version of our town centre. What is schools, retail, housing stock,
and do the parks look like this beautifully reimagined neighborhood? What if we developed quality housing and pedestrian areas?

A transformational project like this requires commitment, champions, cheerleaders and dollars. Thanks to Hurricanes Laura and Delta, the pandemic, and the great alignment of many stars, the dollars to develop such a project are not only achievable, but truly tangible. The Lake Charles Housing Authority, in conjunction with the City of Lake Charles, has the opportunity to apply for a neighborhood of choice
Implementation grant (CNI). CNI grants skyrocketed in 2022 to a maximum of $50 million per project. With CNI funding, the downtown can develop housing, services and supports to create a truly diverse and economically prosperous community. This would provide much-needed dollars to line up with our long list of draft champions and cheerleaders.

A $30.5 million grant from CNI in 2011 transformed New Orleans’ last concentrated public housing complex. Since the grant was awarded, the Iberville-Tremé district has seen the development of more than 1,300 diversified housing units, the creation of vast green spaces, the significant preservation of historic structures, the renovation of key cultural centers, the creation of affordable home ownership opportunities, the redevelopment of a historic school building into artist housing, and
the creation of viable employment and training opportunities.

In addition, the Iberville social housing complex was redeveloped and renamed Bassin Bienville. Bassin de Bienville features ground-floor retail with a cafe and yoga studio, plus one-, two-, and three-bedroom units with a mix of market rates, social housing, and apartments. housing units for the workforce. Project facilities include fitness centers, a computer learning center, an outdoor technology patio, community rooms, a
garden with nutrition education program, two playgrounds and closed off-street parking.

The Bienville Basin is a lesson and an opportunity for Lake Charles. Over 200 social housing units are located behind the Prien Lake Mall and along Lake Street in our town centre. Most still have blue roofs and each represents a displaced family. The simplest solution is to rebuild those 200 units as soon as possible and bring families home. Without a doubt, this is an interesting option. But that’s like washing the exterior of a car, ignoring the dirt on the floor and not even bothering to check the oil. If we’re just “cleaning up” our historic housing project, we don’t know that an oil change can take us much further. A complete overhaul of the engine involves taking a deeper look at community needs, addressing economic and educational challenges, and taking time to make the whole community beautiful and vibrant. With an overhaul of this magnitude, we can bring families back to a home that has thrived for many years.

Lake Charles has a golden opportunity to secure significant funding through a CNI grant, which is a key step towards meaningful economic investment in our downtown. With such funding and support at our fingertips, imagine what our downtown neighborhood transformation project could become. Just imagine.

Learn more about the Mid-City Neighborhood Transformation Project and other projects by visiting www.justimagineswla.com and attending a community meeting:
 Monday, June 6, Cash and Carry, Lake Charles, 6-8 p.m.
 Tuesday, June 7, West-Cal Event Center, Sulfur, 6-8 p.m.
 Wednesday, June 8, Grand Lake High School Gym, Grand Lake, 5-7 p.m.

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