PORT ALLEN — When Mayor Roger Bergeron recently submitted his 2012 budget to the City Council, it contained a rather grim outlook for the city’s downtown Riverfront development.
In the budget’s narrative, the mayor said it was unlikely the city would be able to utilize the $53,000 balance it had remaining in public and private funds to begin the project’s new phase: the 495-foot extension between Maryland and Georgia streets of the paved, linear park that runs along the top of the Mississippi River levee.
The mayor said the project had an estimated cost of about $97,000, money Port Allen just didn’t have at the moment.
But just days after the council approved the budget, Bergeron said the project’s expansion may not have to sit on the back burner after all.
“I was told that the parish may be interested in partnering with us to do that extension,” Bergeron said. “But not only to the Maryland Street stopping point, they actually want to extended it all the way out to the edge of the city limits.”
That lofty goal was the original intent of former Mayor Lynn Robertson, who pioneered the development, parish officials said.
The first phase of the $1 million development was unveiled to the public with a daylong celebration in June 2003.
That phase included a bike and walking path, benches, lighting and a landscaped pavilion that gives visitors a panoramic view of the Mississippi River.
The levee-top improvements were made possible through partnerships with the Port Allen, the West Baton Rouge Tourist Commission, Governor’s Office of Rural Development, Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
West Baton Rouge Parish President Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot confirmed there have been discussions with the mayor about a proposed city/parish partnership to complete the extension.
“When we did our master plan, some of the public comments we got was a strong interest in doing more walking trails,” Berthelot said. “Taking the levee-top trail at least out to the old bridge would be a start.”
The trail is a little more than a half a mile today.
Berthelot said the Riverfront project is one of several endeavors involving pedestrian trails and bike paths the parish hopes to pursue.
There are federal grants available for such projects that would require little matching funds from municipalities, he said.
As for the $44,000 supplement to Port Allen to complete the Riverfront expansion, Berthelot said he would have to review the parish’s budget with the council before any final decisions are made.
“We’ll probably amend our budget in early August,” he said. “Our tax revenue is looking pretty good this year. We’ve got a little surplus.”
Bergeron said the expansion efforts, with the parish’s help, could be under way at the end of the year or beginning of 2013.
“Every morning, I see people walking up and down the levy top, so I would suspect — particularly those residents that live farther down past Kentucky Street — they would like to have access to the levee right there in their backyards, so to speak,” Bergeron said.
Extending the levee-top park would likely would swell crowds for the parish’s annual Fourth of July festivities, said Sharon Boudreaux-Stam, executive director of the West Baton Rouge Tourist Commission, which have grown over the past several years from approximately 2,500 people to 10,000 festival-goers.
“It’s going to make it more comfortable for them,” Boudreaux-Stam said of the proposed expansion. “The crowds go all the way down the levee. More paving would spread them out more.”