- Associated Press - Saturday, May 17, 2014

IDA, La. (AP) - The village of Ida wants to be the home of a Louisiana Welcome and Visitors Information Center on Interstate 49.

It’s working with the Coordinating and Development Corporation - a nonprofit that helps governments, businesses and civic groups by providing services and programs for economic development - to make that happen.

The nonprofit started a 12- month feasibility study to identify the best site and type of facility for a future welcome center. The study examined an area from the Louisiana-Arkansas border to just south of Ida, a town of about 220 people.

While the center is hoped-for, there is no guarantee it will be in Ida. Ida Alderman Tom Tebbe said the state didn’t request the study and has not committed to Ida as the location for the welcome center.

But if the village can get a commitment from the state, Ida can use the proposed center as leverage to get approval for other infrastructure and help attract federal grant money, he said. It also is hoped a welcome center - the first for I-49 - would spur economic development in the Ida area, Tebbe said.

It would be good for the community and the state of Louisiana, he said.

“If things develop in a positive way then we hope to set up a meeting with (Tom) Schedler, Secretary of State, to give this project consideration,” said Tebbe, who also is a CDC member. Discussions with local officials about an I-49 welcome center in Ida go back to former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration, he said.

The first stage will examine the scope of work and look at general overview of the project. The remaining study will evaluate costs and available financing, functional aspects of the visitor's center, conceptual designs, staffing and contract services for janitorial and landscape and maintenance costs and other factors.

At the completion of the study, a discussion is planned with stakeholders including state Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, Rep. Jim Morris, R-Oil City, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the Caddo Parish Commission, among others. Tebbe said Tarver already has written a letter supporting Ida as the location for the center.

Those involved with the study say a tourist welcome center would be economically beneficial for Ida. Maxfield LeComte, CDC president, said communities, such as Natchitoches and Stonewall, prospered after I-49 on and off ramps were constructed and opened the towns to travelers.

Natchitoches’ population grew 40 percent after I-49 opened in the 90s, LeComte said. The corridor brought more commerce and opportunity for existing companies to expand their operations.

“It brought more people to downtown Natchitoches,” LeComte said.

Mayor Kenny Shaw said the main vision for Ida is to improve the water system and get the sewer system completed, and he’d like to see the extra commerce from the welcome center and a truck stop to go along with it.

“There’s always some people who don’t want to see Ida grow a lot,” Shaw said. “I think it’s good that the area grows and we see some jobs.”

LeComte said Ida is appealing because it’s the first city that has utilities south of the Arkansas border on Interstate 49.

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