n northern Louisiana, resting along the Ouachita River, the scenic city of Monroe has served as a pillar of unity for generations.
Located within the Monroe metropolitan area, comprised of the Ouachita, Union and Morehouse parishes, the riverfront community is a hotspot for over 200,000 residents. For centuries, the city has served as a gateway for local communities to gather to enjoy food, art, music, and foster relationships that transcend business and economic development in the region.
Today, growth is evident as Monroe Mayor Friday Ellis and local officials look to invest in enhanced quality of life and interconnectivity through community-focused economic development initiatives.
“As an elected official, it’s my job to bring the community’s vision to life. The seat I sit in doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the people I serve,” says Ellis. “It is very important that we listen to the hopes and dreams of what our community wants to see in the future of their city. That’s what I love about our new strategic plans that focus on our downtown, parks, community centers, music and more.”
Built To Last
With this in mind, the city is looking to incorporate a new vision as it moves forward with the revitalization of its downtown, centered around the community’s voice.
When Mayor Ellis took office in 2020, he knew there was work to be done to connect residents, businesses and visitors to everything Monroe has to offer. In doing so, he worked to create strategic master plans focused on the city’s downtown, parks and recreational assets. Community input has played a critical role in achieving these goals.
For the past two years, the city has worked with Campo Architects & Interior Design to engage stakeholders of all ages and all walks of life in visioning sessions for the city’s downtown riverfront development. One highlight of this process was a Design Camp focused around Monroe’s youth, where they were given creative freedom to design their own business or create a new space on a downtown replica. The city plans to consider these ideas in their goals for downtown.
Monroe has entered into phase three, or implementation, of the plan. Key capital projects such as a sidewalk connection project and accessibility infrastructure will soon come to life. These improvements will aid in ensuring safe connectivity around the city to local parks, restaurants, shops and recreational activities.
“What excites me the most is that hopefully we can restore faith that government can not only deliver functional design, but also beautiful design that serves our community,” says Ellis.
An online survey conducted by CARBO Landscape Architecture showed that residents largely use the city’s Charles Johnson, Chennault and Forsythe Parks for exercise, playgrounds and recreational activities. Based on this feedback, each park will receive upgrades such as improved trails, new inclusive play equipment, covered and open green space for events and updated sports facilities as a part of the master plan.
“It’s about market demand and the feedback loop from your community of what they want to see. That ultimately needs to be the north star and what drives these developments. Without it, you’re not building for your residents,” says Ellis.
These improvements will take place as Amtrak, the Southern Rail Commission and communities along I-20 work to establish a passenger rail service running along the I-20 corridor within the next two years. In providing Monroe with a growth opportunity unlike ever before, the city plans to construct a new intermodal center in town, offering connectivity from Dallas-Fort Worth to Atlanta.
Telling A New Story
At the root of this city stands its historic downtown. Companies like Delta Airlines and Cola-Cola share a history with Monroe, where their legacy remains. Every building holds a story, making preservation a top priority.
“Monroe has a very rich history,” says Louisiana State Representative Michael Echols. “If you look at business and job growth and the unique characters that came out of this market, downtown was a big part of that.”
Echols, who has been a resident of Monroe for over 20 years, has played a large role in preservation and restoration of historic buildings. In the acquisition of over 30 commercial properties, Echols aims to introduce new assets that bring the community together.
In late 2024, The Hotel Monroe will open to the public. A combination of the Sugar Brothers Grocery and Opera House and the Southern Hardware Building, which have been staples since the 1800s, will turn into a 70,000-sq.-ft. facility. The site will feature 69 hotel rooms, over 10,000 sq. ft. of office and meeting space, a 5,000-sq.-ft. ballroom, a full service restaurant and a rooftop bar overlooking the scenic riverside downtown.
This project, among others planned, brings new life to these redeveloped spaces. New luxury apartments, mixed-use developments, affordable housing and a community resource center join the growing list of reimagined facilities.
“Now the city is doing their part with their master plan. When they come in with new lighting, new sidewalks and additional infrastructure coupled with an Amtrak stop, I think you will really see things in downtown Monroe fundamentally explode,” says Echols.
Taking The Leap
Entrepreneurship is no stranger to Monroe. From local coffee shops, restaurants and small businesses, there is a longstanding ecosystem of support and resources for those looking to make their mark.
That support has kept Cory Bahr, chef and owner of Monroe’s Parish Restaurant and Standard Coffee Company, in business for over 25 years. As new space enters the market, the city looks to its talent to take advantage and forge a new future for downtown.
“There’s an opportunity in our community for new and emerging businesspeople and leaders to have a unique voice in this space. I would say do it, be unique, be yourself and give it your all. People really respond well to that here in Monroe,” says Bahr.
With these developments and more underway, the city is growing by integrating culture into economic development. Here on the banks of the Ouachita River, innovation thrives on fertile ground.
This Investment Profile has been prepared under the auspices of City of Monroe.
For more information, visit www.monroela.us.