At the August 10th Monroe City Council meeting, our forward-thinking Monroe City Council approved a request from an equally forward-thinking Mayor Ellis to enter into a professional service agreement with a New Orleans architectural firm, Campo Architects, led by John Campo.

Campo and his team are expected to develop a downtown master plan that includes identifying businesses for redevelopment, evaluating zoning codes, proposals for repurposing buildings, studying transportation, and a variety of other things. The master plan would extend from Louisville Avenue on the north to Calypso Street on the south, and from the Ouachita River on the west and Winnsboro Rd/North 5th on the east.

Our mission at the Monroe Chamber of Commerce is to create an environment where our LOCAL businesses thrive. This decision is a positive decision, a very positive decision for Monroe and for the region. I cannot think of any other immediate move we could make that could benefit all parts of our city and our business community more. Most major cities throughout this great country are known or recognized by their downtowns.

A vibrant and thriving downtown grows our city and our region. In fact, downtowns are how cities are judged and known. A strong downtown leads to economic growth. A strong downtown is the cultural and regional epicenter. Downtowns unify a community. Downtowns are the heart and soul of a city.

If you google the function of a heart, it will tell you the heart pumps continual life into the rest of your body. A strong downtown will pump life, diversity, energy, culture, personality, recreation, food, entertainment and economic development into every part of our region.

Mayor Ellis is already at work improving every part of our city. His vision of building corridors or pathways from the Garden District, South Monroe, Desiard Street and North Monroe complements this master plan.

Additionally, a strong downtown complements the efforts of Antique Alley and Downtown West Monroe. This is our time to dream — this is our time to win.

Kelsea McCrary, Monroe’s new Chief Economic Developer, was asked by our Young Professionals to define culture. Her answer was perfect. She said, “Culture, our culture, is our story and our language.”

We have begun to write a new chapter in Monroe’s story and culture. Each of you reading this column will play a role in defining the story. Each of you reading this column will play a vital role in the success of our story.

Twenty years from now, as residents and visitors enjoy new restaurants and entertainment venues in downtown Monroe; as residents and visitors shop new stores and a booming marina; as potential new businesses and manufacturers begin their community tours of possible site locations in downtown Monroe; as our Mardi Gras parades grow; as our Art Crawls grow; as Monroe builds up downtown to a home of a diverse mix of residential homes; as South Monroe grows and flourishes to meet Downtown; as Desiard Street explodes with new buildings; as downtown reaches our University of Louisiana at Monroe and the new biomedical research park and a beautiful Louisville Avenue connects to North Monroe; and as tourists pull off of I-20 with Monroe as their destination and stay at a themed-based downtown hotel, let them all say “Thank You” to these leaders with a vision. The BEST is yet to come!

Roy Heatherly is president of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce.

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