By Jim Smilie
It was a year ago this week, April 30, 2022, when Rich Dupree edged James Rachal in a runoff election by five votes to become Mayor of Pineville, replacing Clarence R. Fields, who retired after 22 years in office. Dupree officially took office on July 1.
“Time flies when you are having fun, and even when you aren’t, but I am definitely having fun,” Dupree told members of the Rotary Club of Alexandria Tuesday afternoon. Dupree, who served as Chief of Staff to Fields during his four terms as Pineville Mayor, recalled working at an early age with his father as a janitor cleaning buildings in Pineville never dreaming he would one day be elected to lead the city.
Delivering a state of the city update, Dupree noted his administration has been hard at work to move the city forward. “The last two weekends have been some of the busiest in some time,” he said noting planners are eager to resume regular activities after the Covid-19 pandemic prevented many public gatherings. Some of the recent events mentioned were the Love the Boot campaign, in which more than 100 volunteers turned out to work to clean up areas throughout Pineville. The city also hosted the Battle on Buhlow boat races, which Dupree said featured two different sanctioning bodies holding boat races on the lake. The city also hosted a 5th Saturday on Main Street event as well as baseball and softball state championship tournaments for an athletic association for home-schooled students.
Economic development has been a priority for Dupree’s administration, especially in the area around Central State Hospital. “It’s important to understand, the state owns that land,” Dupree explained. “We have the opportunity to sell some of that land for them.” He said legislation passed in 2013 by former state representatives Rick Gallo and Jeff Hall created an arrangement that if the state chose to sell any of the land at the Central State Hospital site it would need to sell it to the Pineville Downtown Development District, which in turn could sell it to a developer.
To date, two parcels have been sold. The first was sold to create the Y-Not Stop gas station and convenience store located at U.S. 165 at the intersection with Rainbow Drive across from Lake Buhlow. A second sale was recently completed next to that site and will be home to Giles Hyundai, which will relocate from its current location at the intersection of Sterkx Road and MacArthur Drive in Alexandria. Dupree said the city is currently seeking proposals to develop a 20-acre tract in that area as well noting, “we would like to attract a health care provider to that area.”
The area around Central State Hospital isn’t the only place showing economic development. “There is a lot of dirt moving in Pineville, and for that we are grateful,” Dupree said. Some of the projects that are happening include new facilities for Southern Air, Walker Automotive, Sweet Joy Bakery, All Hours Fitness, a second Y-Not Stop, Firehouse Subs, Elite Physical Therapy and Little Cakes with Big Attitude. “The more commercial investment we get, the better it is for our tax base,” Dupree said.
Recognizing the city is home to a number of historical sites, including Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site, the original home of Louisiana State University and several historic cemeteries, Dupree said there is a “renewed commitment to placement of historical markers in our city.”
Looking ahead at future projects, Dupree said the city is moving forward with plans to build a new public safety building to house the Pineville Police Department as well as Pineville City Court. “The Mayor’s office will stay in the same place it has been for the past 50 years, in Pineville City Hall,” Dupree said, noting there were questions about the project last year during the mayoral campaign. “We’re going to relocate the police department from the dungeon underneath City Hall at the back of the complex and put them in a state-of-the-art facility.”
“It will give a whole new look to the corner of Reagan and Main Street. We’re excited for that and what that means to our commitment to downtown redevelopment, but we are also excited about what that will mean to our Pineville Police Department and to our Pineville City Court,” Dupree said. The state will provide more than $11 million of funding for the project while the city only has to provide about $2.5 million in funding. “That’s a good deal, no matter what business you are in,” Dupree said.
Other upcoming projects mentioned include:
- Expanding the animal control facility. Dupree said the city is purchasing the former Cenla Animal Clinic near the location where U.S. Highway 71 and Highway 165 split. The new facility will be three-times larger than the current facility and employ twice the staff as the city shufts to providing a no-kill facility.
- Launching a recycling program. Dupree said they are excited about the project which will be the first time they have a designated area for recycling glass, paper and plastics.
- Providing customers the ability to pay utility bills online.
- Extending Edgewood Drive past the Walgreens on Highway 28 East. Dupreee noted there are 8-9 acres of land ready to be developed. He said Lowes and Wal Mart Neighborhood Market expressed interest in the area previously, but the city wasn’t able to meet the need at the time.
Regarding ongoing work at Kees Park, Dupree said they are in the final phases of more than $400,000 in renovations for equipment and other improvements. He said they are hoping to have the park open later this month.
When asked about his most significant accomplishment in his first year in office, Dupree said it was assembling his staff. He noted that in the past year he has named a new fire chief, police chief, utility director, public works director, city clerk, finance director, office secretary and he had to replace his former position as Chief of Staff. “I feel like I have hit a home run with each of those positions,” he said.