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Fort Wade Prison may become community center - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Caddo Parish may transform prison into community center

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CADDO PARISH, La. -

Right next to Eddie Jones Park, you'll find Forcht Wade Prison. It has stood empty for a little more than a year since the state shut it down. Oddly, the prison received millions of dollars in improvements and additions shortly before. It's in excellent condition, which is why Caddo Parish has an eye on the property and sees potential. Parks and recreation has a plan to make the prison the center of community activities and more.

"It's just a shame that it sits out here not being used right now," former warden Anthony Batson said. 

He shows off his old workplace. It comes with a new water tower, hospital wing and more. The state poured more than $8 million into the facility. Batson says it was shut down during budget streamlining.

"It was a surprise, but we knew there were significant budget issues," Batson said.

However, the parish is using the situation to its citizens' advantage. Parks and Recreation Director Henri Wesley says the prison is the perfect opportunity to bring unique recreational and business services to the parish.

"No one had a plan for the prison," Wesley said. "They tried to go out to get businesses to come and take over or buy the prison. At the time, they didn't want anyone who wanted to take over. So, me and my staff, we got together and looked at some ideas."

Those ideas ended up turning the prison into a community center. Wesley stress it won't be typical. Being a prison, there are opportunities to create a unique place for sports, the film industry, government services training and more. He also stress its rural location won't be an issue.

"A regular center, they wouldn't come to if you were just rolling a ball out because it is too far, but if you come into something specific, as specific sport or event, people will come," Wesley said. "Like they say, if you build it, they will come."

Wesley and his staff see sports teams using the property for training camps. He says there's plenty of space for fields or courts and office spaces for performance review. There's already housing for players.

"It's not like a regular prison. The prison was more like a dormitory setting," Wesley said. "So you can have dormitories where you can have football or basketball specialty camp or the weekend."

Parks and recreation also sees the prison as the perfect playing ground for Airsoft War Games. Wesley says Airsoft tournaments can be held there and the North Louisiana Airsoft War Zone could use the place as a base.

"They go around the country and different places and do war games," Wesley said. "That is something that could go over real well in a prison because there's nothing like that anywhere else in the world."

Wesley says the parish would lease space at the prison for uses such as a haunted house too. Before any of that can happen the parish has to get its hands back on the property. In the mid-90s, it granted the prison and the land it sits on to the state. Now parish officials want it back. A clause in the contract makes that possible.

"It's still technically theirs until an actual transfer happens," Donna Frazier, the parish attorney, explains.

She says if the state leaves the prison unused for two years, ownership is automatically returned to the parish. That time is just a few months from being up, but the parish has made efforts the get the prison back sooner. Frazier says the state is cooperating and is currently trying to close contracts with service providers. 

"So, they need to get those resolved or make sure when the parish takes it back over that they are still going to be responsible in some way for those contracts," Frazier said.

As of now, Frazier doesn't know when the state will be able to hand over the prison. The prison isn't completely unused. Batson says it was recently a filming location for two films, including "Dark Places" staring Charlize Theron.

 

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