Construction is under way on Shreveport’s first urban park, The Common, following two years of community planning to form a design. Officials describe the 2.4-acre downtown park as an anchor to Shreveport Common, a revitalization project targeting a long-blighted nine-block historic area.

Boggs & Poole Contracting Group Inc. is the contractor on the project, which broke ground Oct. 17. A $1.2 million grant from Shreveport’s economic development council is funding the park, which will feature walking paths, an art structure with misting station, a food truck court and landscaped flower beds. The city envisions the park hosting concerts, fitness programming and community events.

Sustainability is a key element of the park’s design, explains Katie Martin, landscape architect and assistant to the division manager of planning and development for Shreveport Public Assembly and Recreation. The project team has been tasked with developing a green park that can collect rainwater for irrigation. “Instead of wasting the runoff, the park can sustain itself by keeping as much water in the site as possible,” Martin says.

The park will feature a bioswale, a drainage slope with three tanks to capture rainwater. A key element of the park’s rainwater retention will be an underground Silva Cell system, a modular pavement framework that can absorb and naturally treat storm water, and then redistribute the water to surrounding trees.

Trees with permeable pavers will border the park, and the Silva Cell system will allow their roots to spread and last longer than typical street trees do, Martin says. The landscaping will feature native iris and cypress trees to create an ecosystem.

The project is scheduled to take six months, weather permitting, so it can open this summer. Weather is of particular concern, especially with work taking place outdoors and during the unpredictable fall and winter months, says Chris Southworth, project manager for Boggs & Poole. “We could have a very wet, soggy winter, so that’s always a challenge,” Southworth says. It just depends on what Mother Nature throws at us.”

Given that the park is in a historic area, crews must pay close attention as they excavate the site. While digging up old slabs, workers uncovered what appeared to be old oil pans that might have been part of a gas station at one time. The city called out environmental officials to collect samples as a precaution, Martin says.

Shreveport officials say the park is lynchpin in the redevelopment of the surrounding blighted area. Developers have been eyeing the area but have been waiting for the construction of the park before investing in new projects, Martin says.

To date, $45 million has been invested in the Shreveport Common area, including public and private restoration, infrastructure improvements and programming, according to Wendy Benscoter, executive director of Shreveport Common. The park’s groundbreaking has helped attract an additional $65 million in private development.

“We know from other communities that urban parks that replace blight can change communities and change the way people use the space,” Benscoter says. “And we know that a vibrant urban center attracts people and commerce. The Common park was planned as a connector.”