Everyone who has lived in Shreveport for a few years – – well almost everyone – – knows of the Barnwell. Officially it is the R.S. Barnwell Memorial Garden and Art Center, and for many many years it was the focal point of the Clyde Fant Parkway. Until the arrival of the casinos, it was the only structure on the east side of the parkway, immediately adjacent to the Red River.
The center was named after R.S. Barnwell, a Louisiana magnate; half of the original 1970 construction cost was donated by the Barnwell family. The main attraction is (or was) the large plexiglass domed botanical conservatory in which palm trees, flowery shrubs, bromeliads, and many unusual tropical plants were once showcased.
The problem is that the Barnwell does not have a separate/operating revenues. At one time the City was funding the Friends of the Barnwell to run the facility; the management contract expired at the end of 2012 and it was not renewed. Since that time the facility has ben shuttered; bond money ($1.5 million) has been allocated to rehab the facility; estimates now show that amount to be insufficient.
Like many capital projects that have literally died on the vine (including most of the Barnwell conservatory plants) during the Glover administration, Shreveport’s next mayor must decided how to deal with this honored but underutilized Shreveport landmark. Thus its not surprising that the Barnwell’s future was a question at the Broadmoor/Captain Shreve forum for mayoral candidates.
The surprise – – no shock – was the answer of the soon to be 70 year old Ollie Tyler.
After the question was answered by 3 candidates, Ms. Ollie had to ask John Hussey the moderator to repeat the question – not once but twice. Clearly at a loss for words, she asked if the inquiry was about the Barn Well – which may have been a confused reference to Jacob’s Well. Finally she admitted she had no knowledge of this facility.
Ms. Tyler constantly talks of a vision for Shreveport and how she will lead Shreveport to the promised land. To do so, she will certainly need a basic knowledge of Shreveport landmarks, facilities, and venues; certainly the Barnwell Center on the riverfront fits into that category.
So, was this a senior moment at 7:30 p.m. or was it reflective of declining cognitive ability of a senior citizen who looks and acts her age? Who knows – and who has any real idea how she will handle the mental and physical challenges of the mayor’s office; she turns 70 on January 6 of next year. A career in an education does not necessarily prepare a person to lead the third largest city in the state – a city that many believe is on the decline.