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Plan for Port Allen downtown redevelopment in works

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Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 7:12pm

Port Allen Mayor Deedy Slaughter wants to create an historic district in downtown Port Allen. She brought the issue before the City Council on February 13 but the council voted not to discuss the issue. She said she plans on bring it before the council again. Business owners say they like the idea of a historic district, but they have never been approached by the city about what they'd like to see happen.

"She hasn't looked into the background of how she's going to be able to do that. The way it is now she can do nothing, because of the restrictions," Sam Saia, downtown business owner, said.

Sam Saia and his family have owned businesses in downtown Port Allen for more than 70 years.

"Port allen used to be really busy, cars would line up for miles waiting for the ferry, it was like a boomtown," Saia explained.

The area used to see lots of traffic and businesses thrived because of commuters using the Port Allen ferry to get across the river. Business began to change when the state built bridges to cross over to Baton Rouge. Locals began going to Baton Rouge for the majority of their shopping and entertainment needs.

Saia said over the past ten years his profits began to drop: "I don't know which way it's going to go i'm sitting on a lot of investment and until they make a change I don't see where it's going to improve."

Customers started to move away.

"All our business here is local, and if you don't get that, and you don't watch your business real close you're not going to survive," Saia explained.

Mayor Deedy Slaughter said she's working on other plans to help protect the city. She's teamed up with the city master plan committee made up of "teachers, retired teachers,city council members, and some business owners." Their job is to reimagine what Port Allen should look like. Slaughter said some of the things they would like to do is bring in restaurants and shops to make downtown more visitor friendly.

"The community they want to see some development," Slaughter said. "They want to see some good things come to Port Allen. A place where tourism can come to let the city be a place of attraction."

The group hasn't come up with it's final plans, but Saia said they need to get downtown business owners involved now before they make any changes.

He said part of the problem is the city's zoning ordinances. Right now it's hard for business to take over residential properties, and there is no way to open up a mixed use shop.

"They (working families and singles) are looking for a reasonable place to stay and there is none in this area," Saia explained.

Saia says the city should re-model downtown like Baton Rouge's Third Street: "If the town the officials would do some of the things like Baton Rouge has done Port Allen would grow a little bit more than it has."

Saia explained the problems with the city not communicating with business owners goes back several cycles of politicians, but if nothing changes soon the city will really suffer.

Slaughter did not have a time frame for when she would reapproach the city council with the historic district proposal. The master plan committee meets on March 5. She said she will approach business owners once a final game plan is decided.

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