RUSTON, La. - Downtown’s Lewis Alley is set for a makeover thanks in large part to a grant awarded by Louisiana’s Main Street Program. As part of a competitive process, Ruston was awarded $4,000 toward improvements that will eventually transform the alley, now primarily used for garbage collection and deliveries, into an alluring public space.
The city envisions the alleyway – the only one of its kind downtown – functioning as a place where locals and visitors gather for their morning coffee, sit to read, surf the web using the city’s public Wi-Fi network, or meet a friend for lunch during the day. In the evenings and on weekends, events such as poetry readings, food truck roundups, public markets, movie screenings, music performances, outdoor exercise classes, pop up playgrounds and more could eventually enliven the space and bring vitality to this part of the city.
“The purpose of this project is to create a place that celebrates public space in our city by bringing people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities together,” said Ruston Main Street Program Director Haley Perot.
The project will be implemented incrementally, beginning with small, low-cost physical improvements that will be expanded upon over time with public input and involvement. Initially, it will involve the provision of brightly-colored moveable chairs and tables, the installation of LED string lights hung between the buildings to provide illumination and ambiance, and the installation of planters potted with hardy vegetation that green the space while helping to slow traffic, providing a buffer between the automobiles and seating areas.
The city will work to leverage the initial physical changes to the alley to catalyze a more comprehensive series of improvements shaped with the input of downtown merchants and other stakeholders using examples and resources from other communities that have successfully integrated alleyways into their urban form, including Austin, New Orleans, Seattle and San Francisco.
Mayor Ronny Walker said the project is part of ongoing efforts to reinvigorate Ruston’s downtown as the city’s cultural and economic hub. “It offers another opportunity to promote and preserve our historical architecture and reinforce a strong sense of place in our city, and it provides another venue for people to interact as part of a thriving, exciting commercial and residential district that sets Ruston apart from the rest of the world,” Walker said.
The project complements other ongoing initiatives that affect downtown, including construction of the Rock Island Greenway, a linear park under construction that will connect the downtown core and run 6 miles through the city; efforts to redevelop long-vacant historic structures including the Heard building, the federal building and the old diesel power plant; and non-infrastructure initiatives such as the use of vacant buildings for pop-up markets and events.
The city is interested in encouraging enhancements to the rear facades of businesses fronting Lewis Alley and opening access to businesses through the passageway; finding ways to provide new sources of visual interest at the terminating points of the corridor such as fountains, sculptures, and street trees; and creating a slate of programming that turns this previously-overlooked space into one of Ruston’s most sought-after public amenities.
Longer-term improvements might include living walls and fountains, murals, and other types of public art. The city also intends to work with community partners to generate meaningful, high-quality programming for the alley that will be available to the public at no – or nominal – cost.
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