Lake Charles TV Station Set to Rebuild Downtown

Nearly two years after being destroyed by a hurricane, KPLC is set to rebuild, according to this article. In the early morning hours of August 27, 2020, Hurricane Laura made landfall on the southwest shore of Louisiana. At Category 4 strength with sustained winds of 150 miles per hour, Laura was the strongest hurricane to hit that corner of the state since storm records began in 1851. As Laura’s eyewall passed over Lake Charles and its metropolitan area, the storm was still a devastating Category 4. The damage inflicted on homes and businesses was nearly incomprehensible.

One such hard-hit business was the KPLC news station. In a worst-case scenario event, the station’s 400 foot transmission tower snapped in half, causing the top portion to crash down into the station’s broadcast studio, which was housed below, knocking the news station off the air. Station staff had evacuated the studio a mere 12 hours before.

John Ware, KPLC-TV’s general manager, went out to inspect the damage to the station later that morning. “To see the tower sticking through the studio roof into the room that we would have been broadcasting from was absolutely sickening,” said Ware.

Despite the fact that their studio was in ruins, the station and its staff still found ways to get important and desperately sought after information to the people of the Lake Charles area. This included assistant news director and anchor Jillian Corder and a group of KPLC journalists reporting on the ground while their colleagues worked from the WAFBstation in Baton Rouge. Many residents view these journalists’ actions as heroic for never giving up and finding creative ways to show them what things looked like in their neighborhoods and for letting them know when it was safe to return home. “In a lot of stories, you attempt to relate to your subject matter, to your viewer, you try to deliver what you think is important to them,” Corder said. “In the moments after the storm, after Laura, you knew what was important to them — because you were going through it, too.”

The KPLC station has been housed downtown in Lake Charles for its entire 65 year history. A decision had to be made on whether to rebuild in the same location or to move the station elsewhere. Gray Television, KPLC’s parent company, along with KPLC, has spent the last two years creating a plan to move forward. They recently announced their decision to keep the station at its Division Street location. The multi-million dollar project will include expanded television production facilities, two new broadcasting studios, a larger parking lot, and a new building entrance with lots of glass and natural light. “We think it will be a great facelift for the area,” said Ware. “We worked with the city to make sure it reflects the architectural significance of the area.”

The biggest challenge for the rebuild will be the fact that the station will continue to broadcast from the location throughout construction. As a result, the construction will have to be done in phases. But keeping the station downtown is worth this inconvenience, according to mayor Nic Hunter. “We got to a point today where there was a group commitment to come back and reinvest in what has been a historic location and a very important anchor for downtown Lake Charles,” said Hunter. “KPLC has been a trusted source of news and updates in this community since 1954. It’s an important thing when new companies come into Lake Charles; it’s also an important thing when existing companies make the decision to reinvest and retain jobs in Lake Charles.”

Pat Williams Construction, a local company, is leading the project and construction is slated to begin in the first half of August. The building should be completed in about 18 months, weather permitting. “When something’s good for downtown Lake Charles, it’s good for the entire city of Lake Charles.” Mayor Hunter said. “This reinvestment not only affects KPLC, but the bigger picture is the spin-off benefits it has for the surrounding businesses and the surrounding communities.”

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Proposed Revitalization of Lake Charles Region

With long-term recovery aid from the federal government on the way to the city of Lake Charles, many are looking to revitalize the storm-stricken area with projects that rebuild the community stronger and better than it was before, according to this article from The Advocate.

Mike Nodier, the head of Polaris Engineering in Lake Charles, has a plan to revitalize the city of Lake Charles and have its community bounce back from the devastating, long-lasting damages accrued by Hurricane Laura and other storms. The plan in question is Nodier’s Bayou Greenbelt Plan which would connect a sprawling series of bayous and canals in Lake Charles via a 23-mile loop with a pathway alongside it. The ground-level pathway sitting beside the looping waterway would allow for kayakers, bikers, and walkers to all enjoy recreational activities in Lake Charles, a community known for its water-facing facilities.

Although the possibility of building it could help to improve the water drainage of the flood-prone Lake Charles, Nodier’s Greenbelt Plan is just one of a few ideas being considered by local officials who would like to see the region turn a corner from a string of natural disasters. Another proposal is to revitalize and further develop the city’s lakefront, which is a plan that’s been gaining some noticeable traction in recent weeks.

Mike Nodier expressed his inception of the Bayou Greenbelt Plan after assessing the already existing landscape of the area. He said, “we have so many natural resources here that kind of center around water — one of the reasons I came here. Let’s exploit what we’ve got. Let’s make do with what we have. And so that was the genesis of this idea.”

While many plans and proposals are floating around to improve the sustainability of the city, Lake Charles and the surrounding region are still feeling “staggered” by the effects of not only Hurricane Laura, but also three other weather disasters as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. All of these successive events have weighed heavily upon rebuilding efforts that the city has started at various stages along the way.

Furthermore, it’s now known that both Hurricane Laura and Delta have had tremendous impacts on the region’s population, according to the recently-released population estimates from the United States Census Bureau. The 2021 data showed that the Lake Charles-adjacent region had some of the steepest declines in population in the nation.

In fact, when their population decreases are combined, both Calcasieu and Cameron Parishes had seen the biggest percentage decrease among metropolitan areas in the entire country. Cameron Parish’s population dropped by about 10% and fell to approximately 5,080, and Calcasieu Parish fell by a percentage of 5.3% to 205,282 people total. This news was especially devastating to Calcasieu Parish, as their communities had been growing steadily in size prior to the storms striking the area.

The greater Lake Charles region has been known for its chemical plants and energy production, which have been both beneficial in boosting the economy and detrimental in that they have polluted the water and air quality of the city. It’s because of these negative effects on the water and air quality that have motivated community leaders and city officials to emphasize quality-of-life improvements in the ongoing rebuilding process.

The director of the H.C. Drew Center for Business and Economic Analysis at McNeese State University, Dan Groft, relayed to The Advocate that the proposed projects will help to bring people back to the area and retain them in the region, thus helping the economy in turn. Groft had said, “we need to get the residents back and keep residents that are here. That will be crucial to the economic health of the region in the long-term.” Hopefully, the coming years will see the Lake Charles region bounce back in its various industries, despite the string of disasters that have stood in its way recently.

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Historic Chennault International Airport Seeks Transformation

A historic Louisiana airport might soon see a massive overhaul, thus creating thousands of new jobs over the next two decades, according to an Advocate article detailing the prospective transformation.  Louisiana officials are setting their sights on the potential transformation of Chennault International Airport and turning its two-mile runway into an economic engine for the Lake Charles region, an area that desperately needs the influx of jobs and revenue that would be generated by the airport’s proposed master plan.

The airport, which is located on the eastern edge of Lake Charles, has lived many lives over the past seventy years, and in many Louisiana circles, it’s been seen as a developmental pipedream due to the obstacles that would have to be overcome in order to transform such a large space.

Though Chennault International Airport doesn’t see any commercial flights, there has been no shortage of activity on its runway. Over the past year, Chennault has seen activity from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, military training flights, a World War II-era B-25 needing a space to be repainted, and Gov. John Bel Edwards landed in the area for an event in Lake Charles.

Since 2018 Kevin Melton, a retired Air Force colonel has operated Chennault as its airport director, and when speaking on the future of the space, Melton said, “We focus everything that we do on, not what works for us today, but: What do we think is going to work five years, 10 years, 30 years down the road? That’s what I care about, and that’s what I focus on.”

The airport is seen as both an enormous opportunity for growth, but as noted in the article by Adley Cormier, author of the local history book Lost Lake Charles, “having the longest runway between Houston and Cape Canaveral was at one point viewed more as an obstacle than an advantage.”

A lot of the excitement of the future of the space comes from an economic impact study that has been carried out for the airport by Stephen Barnes, the director of the Kathleen Blanco Public Policy Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Barnes had found that if the proposed master plan were to be implemented in full, then it could possibly generate up to 16,000 jobs either directly or indirectly across the next 20 years. In addition to the created jobs, it was estimated that full development of the master plan could also potentially lead to approximately $1 billion in tax revenue for the state and $780 million in sales tax revenue locally.

Barnes noted that implementing the full scope of the master plan would have its difficulties, but his study indicated that the public would be likely to “recoup its investment if around a third of the blueprint were carried out.” The total study carried out by Barnes operated on the assumption that about $285 million in public investment and $515 million in private dollars would be put forth toward the master plan’s implementation, and he noted that light manufacturing might be a considerable area of opportunity if approached.

Barnes remarked, “I think the biggest challenge would just be competition from other communities and other developers who are trying to compete in the same space. But I think there’s such a big upside potential that this could still turn out to be a smart investment, even if not everything comes through.”

In its lifetime, Chennault International Airport has been used as a school for fighter pilots in World War II, an Air Force base during the Cold War, an unofficial venue for drag racers, driver’s education, and much more. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that plans began to emerge for its economic development, but with the master plan for a massive overhaul of the airport starting to gain traction once again, it’s given some much-needed hope to the Lake Charles community.

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Lake Charles Theatre Bounces Back After Storms

After a particularly rough year enduring Louisiana storm weather, the city of Lake Charles has opened the doors of the famed ACTS theatre to the community, according to this article from The Advocate.

Many of Lake Charles’s cultural structures and institutions had sustained significant damage from the four natural disasters that have hit southwest Louisiana this past year. Despite much of the outside world seeing Lake Charles as a working-class town mostly comprising industrial plants and casinos, the oft-forgotten cultural structures are left behind in the conversation but not in the damages sustained.

The smaller Lake Charles theatres, though not as profitable as the industry that leads the city’s GDP, often bring a sense of community and spirit to the city’s population of roughly 80,000 people. This includes music venues, art galleries, and other performance spaces throughout the city limits for the area’s collection of zydeco musicians.

But as of Fall 2021, the arts are alive again in Lake Charles as a production of a musical, 42nd Street, has premiered in the ACTS Theatre, standing as the first play the former movie house has “put on” in over a year. Mike Ieyoub is one of the lead actors in the production of 42nd Street, and just before a recent rehearsal began for the show, he assessed damages that the theatre had sustained from Hurricane Laura and worried about the likelihood of reopening the theatre to the public. “We looked around and we didn’t think we’d get it reopened,” Ieyoub told The Advocate.

He and Kristen Harrell both play leading roles in 42nd Street, and they both commented on the audience’s excitement for the theatre’s return as well as the cast’s. They attributed the anticipation to the fact that dramatic performances in a theatre are symbolically representative of a return to normalcy for audiences, and they provide an outlet for cast members as well. Harrell said, “for a lot of us who grew up doing it, myself included, it’s like, ‘I can tap again;’ coming back together and just having fun.”

The cultural affairs director for the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana, Matt Young, said the following regarding the resilience of the city and its residents in light of the past years of storms: “living in Lake Charles is kind of tough these days, but I think the more that we’re able to restore our festivals and fairs and open our cultural institutions and attractions, the better chance we’re going to have of keeping our residents, and not just keeping them, but giving them a great quality of life.”

Over the past few years, Lake Charles has put in noticeable efforts to address some of the citizens’ concerns that certain neighborhoods and structures in the city have been neglected for quite some time. These efforts include the creation of the Nellie Lutcher Cultural District in the northern area of the city through the use of tax incentives. This creation of a district named after the famed Lake Charles jazz singer and pianist is an effort to spur new development in this area of the city.

Another effort supported by the city is to construct a new performing arts space, and given that the Lake Charles Little Theatre had sustained heavy storm damage recently, it will soon be demolished. Randy Partin is the former president of this once-operating theatre, as it’s the second-oldest performing group in the state, having established itself in 1926, but due to the scheduled demotion, Partin has aligned his goals with the city’s. He founded the Live Arts Venue Alliance in an effort to lobby for and support the establishment of a new performance space in the city.

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