Southeastern surveys assist revitalization of Slidell Olde Towne
Contact: Christina Chapple
Slidell Olde Towne surveys
HAMMOND – Business owners and residents of Slidell Olde Towne rated safety and cleanliness as the most important characteristics for the successful revitalization of the historic downtown area with bars considered least important, according to a Southeastern Louisiana University survey.
Following the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on the City of Slidell, community leaders there contacted the new planning program at Southeastern’s Southeast Louisiana Business Center to request assistance for Slidell’s Olde Towne revitalization.
That request led to the university’s commitment to assist Slidell with technical and planning assistance for the downtown area, along with the survey of residents and businesses conducted by the Southeastern Social Science Research Center (SSSRC), explained John Dardis of the Business Center’s planning department. The survey and the building inventory were conducted in cooperation with the Olde Towne Slidell Association and the Olde Towne Slidell Taskforce. The inventory, prepared by the university’s Southeast Louisiana Business Center, contains the condition, age and use of every building in Olde Towne.
A summary of Southeastern’s survey findings was presented to Mayor Ben Morris and the Slidell City Council on Oct. 14 by Southeastern sociologist Bonnie Lewis, director of the SSSRC and Dardis. Survey respondents were asked to provide information and ideas that would help identify the most important activities that would help spur the economic development and revitalization of the area.
“Almost three of every four respondents said they have concern for Olde Towne Slidell problems,” said Lewis, who co-directed the Olde Towne revitalization survey with SSSRC poll director Kurt Corbello. “This indicates strong support to draw on in revitalization efforts.”
When asked to list what they considered Olde Towne’s most important problems, respondents most frequently mentioned “economic development aid/lack of business” (13.3 percent); “abandoned, blighted, unrestored or vacant property” (12 percent); “bars” (7.8 percent); “getting people to shop here/more public relations” (7.2 percent); and “draining/flooding and traffic/speeding” (tied at 5.4 percent).
“We were also interested in their views on amenities that are frequently cited in urban planning,” Lewis said. Given a list of 21 such amenities -- ranging from public transportation, restaurants and bars to safety from crime, cleanliness and good streets – residents were asked to rate whether they thought Olde Towne Slidell had enough of these features and how important each was to the area’s development.
On every item except bars, the study found that large percentages of respondents felt safety issues – safety from crime (85 percent), safe street crossing (76 percent) and safety for pedestrians (73 percent) and bicycles (61 percent) – were most important. Cleanliness also rated highly on the importance scale at 85 percent, as did good streets at 60 percent.
While the study indicates that 96 percent believe that there is none or not enough public transportation, only 33 percent believe that this is important. Approximately 80 percent say that there are plenty or too many bars, with only 12 percent indicating that bars are important to development.
The contrast of what residents feel is lacking and what they consider most important “shows what the community will provide the most support for in revitalization efforts, and what would have the greatest payoff in effort,” said Lewis.
Lewis said 166 Olde Towne business and property owners and renters – approximately 44 percent -- responded to the survey, conducted by mail in June and July. The survey has a sample error of plus or minus 7.7 percent.
In addition to the Olde Towne survey, Business Center planning personnel conducted a building survey, which logged the condition, age, and use of Olde Towne buildings. Even with the significant flooding of buildings in Slidell, the Olde Towne District appears to be recovering quickly as new residents and businesses move back in, according to the study.
The inventory found that 269 (82 percent) of Olde Towne’s 329 structures are occupied, 84 percent are in very good or good condition, and 38 percent are more than 50 years old. Residential structures account for 56 percent of the buildings and commercial 30 percent. Fifty structures were found to be in poor condition, with a dozen judged “very poor.” Slightly over half – 57 percent – of the structures are elevated.
The information was compiled to help the city with planning for the future, demolishing buildings that are considered in very poor condition, and in dealing with the issue of flood insurance. The Slidell Planning Department and Olde Towne volunteers assisted greatly with both projects involving Southeastern Louisiana University.
The Business Center has also worked with the City to prepare a Main Street program grant application, currently being reviewed on the state level, and lent technical assistance and expertise to the task of formulating economic incentive programs and other items needed for revitalization.
Copies of the Olde Towne Slidell survey will be available online at www.selu.edu/sssrc or by calling the center at 985-549-5120.