The Barnwell Center’s Death Was No Accident
September 25, 2016
As questions about the proposed Planet Aqua aquarium on the Shreveport riverfront mount, some about the closing of the Barnwell Center have been answered.
Our R. S. Barnwell Memorial Garden & Art Center was not beyond saving, no matter which official or aquarium booster says so. Its closing did not happen by accident. It was done in, we must remember, while city officials sat atop a $1.5 million pot of our money specifically intended to save it.
It is also important to remember that it was City Hall’s own Citizens Bond Committee which formally recommended the Barnwell “repairs and renovation” for inclusion on the April 2, 2011, bond issue ballot.
Instead of such renovation, as soon as the bond issue votes were counted and the $1.5 million for “the Barnwell” was secured, City Hall – meaning Mayor Cedric Glover – led efforts to close it.
City officials tell me those discussions included members of the “Friends of the Barnwell,” board, but apparently not frontline volunteers who were most actively working there. That likely proved to be a real difference, not merely a distinction.
In her excellent reporting a few months ago, Victoria Shirley at KSLA Television interviewed key Barnwell volunteers best qualified to inform us. One of these was Jerri Cobb, President of Friends of the Barnwell:
“It (the shutdown) was a total shock … We were to have three, three-year contracts with the City (to schedule / program the Center). We fulfilled two, three-year contracts, before they canceled the third one.”
Ms. Cobb added that allowing the Center to sit empty for so long was, “totally ridiculous. Why would you let a building fall back down on the riverbanks when you can look across and see what Bossier is doing on their side? It makes Shreveport look real shoddy.”
Marie Dunn, Treasurer of the volunteer group told Victoria Shirley the Barnwell was “doing pretty well. … We were really bringing people back downtown. We were having 400-500 people coming there a week and it was very diverse, the whole city misses it.”
City Councilman Michael Corbin was an involved member of Friends of the Barnwell, and at one time a board member. (He left the group in 2010.) In answer to my direct question, he said, “I believe the membership as a whole expected the $1.5 (million) to restore the facility.“
Corbin added, “the Board often kept issues close and did not always share operational issues and monetary issues with the general membership.“
One of the most noxious aspects of city government during his two terms is how Mayor Glover did what he wanted to, no matter what the voters or law said. Thus, the fact that the subject $1.5 million from the bond issue was “for the Barnwell,” but not going there, had no particular meaning to him.
Another example well demonstrates that point.
Just re-elected to a second term, Glover immediately set about in 2011 to pass the city’s largest-ever bond issue … $175 million. Favored deals and projects for Glover and “friends” – not including Friends of the Barnwell, we now know – were his pinpoint focus.
On April 7, 2011, just 5 days after the bond issue passed, Glover acted in a like manner to kill our Hwy. 3132 Extension to the Red River. He used NLCOG (Northwest Louisiana Council of Governments) and the Port of Caddo-Bossier for political and legal cover for his “official” act.
In a 1996 bond issue, Shreveporters had voted a special $3.5 million tax on themselves to keep the project rolling, with the language specifying completion “to the Port.” Such meant diddly to Glover. His “friend,” Bossier Councilman Tim Larkin, got Glover to kill the Extension – dead – at Flournoy-Lucas Road.
Past Flournoy-Lucas, Larkin’s planned, swanky Southeast Shreveport residential development was at risk.
Likewise, Glover set about to keep the Barnwell’s $1.5 million for a different project, most likely according to my sources was his deal for “renovations” of RiverView Park, just south of the Barnwell.
When the Barnwell was kaput in January 2012, its 42-year history, like the 55-year history of the 3132 Extension, meant zero. Glover wanted something else.
Indisputably, the Barnwell Center crafted a long and deep history of which Shreveport can be proud. It featured direct citizen investment in the public good by the Barnwell family, volunteerism of a kind most people here have never known, and it featured an exemplary public-private partnership.
The best aquarium deal City Hall might possibly do has zero chance of accomplishing what the Barnwell Center was already doing. The opportunity City Hall blew was saving the Barnwell Center.
Now we find that the aquarium project is wrapped in City Hall secrecy. Council members Jeff Everson and Michael Corbin have been largely cut-out, and possibly others, too. Here we go again …
The lesson is clear: if the aquarium deal is a good and honest one, rather than just one more wrong-headed “government-in-hiding” op, Shreveport taxpayers will be lucky.
© 2016 ELLIOTT STONECIPHER ALL RIGHTS RESERVED