I attended an especially enjoyable event this past Saturday. It was a reunion of former employees from the Slidell Sentry-News, which was the east parish paper owned by Wick Communications, a company that also owned the St. Tammany News Banner on the west side of the parish.
As some of you know, the News Banner and Sentry-News were the two community papers in St. Tammany Parish for decades, going back to the 1960s.
The newspapers had one of those “Katrina stories” in that the ownership decided to combine them into the St. Tammany News when they started publishing again several weeks after the storm, a decision that, in my opinion, had a part to play in the eventual demise of the paper.
That is, of course, what led to the birth of The Slidell Independent in 2009, followed by the birth of Tammany West in 2013, which are now publishing to again give the east and west sides of the parish two distinctly different community papers. The St. Tammany News closed down in 2013.
Most of us who have lived in the parish for a number of years have heard the talk about “east vs. west” in St. Tammany and the divide from the Slidell side to the Mandeville/Covington side.
I, however, have gotten to personally see it up close and experience it ever since starting Tammany West, which has seen me covering news and attending social/business functions on both sides of the parish.
But there continues to be a push to work together as “one St. Tammany,” a phrase Parish President Pat Brister has tried to throw out whenever she can. I have noticed that Pat seems very intent on eliminating the “east vs. west” issue, something that will be quite a challenge although I absolutely think we can improve a lot of the distinct differences right now.
Along those lines, a new report was recently released that is offering a vision for the next 20 years. It is called the “Northshore Visioning Project” and came about after civic and political leaders wanted to answer the question of “what do we want to look like in 20 years?”
A Task Force was put together, comprised of stakeholders representing the private and public sections. The Northshore Community Foundation led the process that eventually saw SSA Consultants hired to do the research and provide a report and vision for how the parish can maintain the quality of life we now have, but grow in the best way possible.
I got my hands on the report recently and immediately saw some interesting information. At the top of the report was a statistic predicting St. Tammany Parish will grow from its current population total of nearly 300,000 to approximately 459,000, all coming in just 14 years!
Seeing that stat was all I needed to realize the effort to truly plan the St. Tammany future is positively a good idea. Rather than just sitting back and hoping we grow properly to maintain our quality of life we need to figure out what needs improving, what needs to be kept, and what needs to change so we can do that in the best way possible.
Talking with East St. Tammany Chamber CEO Dawn Sharpe last week I learned that one of the suggestions in the report is for the Slidell Chamber and St. Tammany West Chamber to consider forming only one Chamber.
For that matter, the Task Force interviewed regional business leaders and found that many were “frustrated” with the fact there are so many different economic development organizations—all asking for financial support—and that will likely lead to some consolidating and change in the future.
Folks on the east side of the parish are probably not aware that the Northshore Community Foundation is leading an effort to build a large structure next to the St. Tammany Justice Center in Covington. Quite aptly named “Northshore,” the building is a 7,000 square foot facility that will allow workspace for non-profit partners and social entrepreneurs. It is the first building of its kind in Louisiana and will include meeting space, private and semi-private offices and a shared open space for groups to meet, all to optimize their resources.
The Northshore Community Foundation is a non-profit group that unites human and financial resources to enhance the quality of life in the parish and since learning more about them in my coverage of the west I’ve been quite impressed with the incredible work they are doing to benefit the people of this parish.
The Northshore Visioning Project has already created a cool catch-phrase for the three region area that includes Washington and Tangipahoa parishes. It is called, “The Northshore: North of Your Expectations.”
As much as the intent of the report is to find the best way to grow in the three-parish area, it struck me that St. Tammany Parish is really the key region in all of this. Neither of the other two parishes was predicted to grow even close to the amount we could see here.
This is all another reason I am glad we have our two parish newspapers back. Without a local paper the governmental groups could do anything they want with little public attention. I mean, let’s face it, the big city papers from Baton Rouge and New Orleans are not going to report with the detail our local papers can.
I’ll be writing more about the Northshore Visioning Project in next Thursday’s newspapers. Keep tuned—there is some interesting stuff.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.