Ike Hamilton Expo Center area

AN AERIAL shot, provided by the City of West Monroe, shows the area surrounding the Ike Hamilton Expo Center (with red and white roof to the left). The area was touted in a recent survey by Gerard “Stick” Thibodeaux as “one of the best retail sites I have ever been involved with.” Thibodeaux's firm says the site is a prime location for retail development.

West Monroe residents say a lack of retail development near the Ike Hamilton Expo Center is a threat to the city's character and land use.

That was some of the feedback West Monroe officials received during a public forum held earlier this month in conjunction with the city's development of a master plan identifying the city's strengths and opportunities for growth.

The city recently hired Atlas Community Studios, a Des Moines, Iowa strategic consulting firm, to create a city-wide master plan to guide future city projects through the next five years.

“It gives us guidance,” West Monroe Mayor Staci Mitchell said. “It’s a plan of where we want to see ourselves in the future, so that we can have a plan to work towards getting there.”

The city received a $76,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to work with consultants on forming the master plan. The city is paying some $30,000 to match the funding from the grant, according to Mitchell.

Citizens participating in last week's session submitted their responses through a survey. The survey's categories included community character and land use, housing and neighborhoods, transportation, conservation and hazard mitigation, parks and recreation, economic development, and infrastructure improvements.

According to the survey's results, local residents consider the property by Interstate 20 near the Ike to be an opportunity for growth but said a lack of retail development near the Ike was a threat to the city’s community character and land use.

Mitchell told The Ouachita Citizen the city does not currently have any plans for the area near the Ike except for possibly building an indoor sports complex project. The indoor sports complex project could cost some $20 million.

“The indoor sports complex is the biggest project for the property at the moment,” Mitchell said.

The indoor sports facility would provide a place to host indoor sporting events like basketball and volleyball.

Mitchell noted investors have shown interest in property near the Ike but no arrangements have advanced.

“There are people always talking and calling and looking but nothing in the definiate works,” Mitchell said.

Local residents also referred to the city’s housing market as one of the city’s weaknesses in the category of housing and neighborhoods, claiming there are too many rental properties compared to homeowners in West Monroe.

West Monroe Board of Aldermen member Thom Hamilton says he would like to see plans developed for what housing would look like in the future for the city.

“I want the city to have a plan for the future of what our housing is going to look like,” Hamilton said. “How do we keep things new?”

Hamilton suggested land banking as a possible option for the city’s future housing development.

“I want more realistic plans like land banks,” Hamilton said. “Things that help the city move forward and sustain itself instead of just urban sprawl and have rental houses everywhere.”

“Things to keep a good balance between business, industry, jobs we have in the city and the housing market,” Hamilton added.

Residents also declared the city has an opportunity for biking and walking trails within the city and its neighborhoods.

Mitchell told The Ouachita Citizen there was a need for connectivity throughout West Monroe and suggested having routes for biking, walking, and smart streets.

Atlas Community Studios is scheduled to present the completed master plan to the Board of Aldermen in July.

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