By Shanna Perkins / Photos by The New Iberia Main Street Program
In 1835, Frederick H. Duperier surveyed the land for the Town of Iberia. There was a plot on St. Peter Street that was reserved for a church. In 1836, Duperier donated the plot to the board of directors authorized to construct the St. Peters Catholic Church. But, he had one condition – he wanted to be able to see the church from his home at Mount Carmel. So an alley was left between Saint Peter and Main Streets, which became, of course, Church Alley.
“I started thinking about this project in 1992,” explains project volunteer and designer Freddy DeCourt Jr. “I had just gotten back from Paris and they had all of these really neat alleyways. Some of them had glass roofs, some were totally tripped out with art and some were just little pocket parks, but they would have art instillations, fountains or benches. So when I came back, I knew the story of Church Alley and thought that was kind of neat and I decided we really needed to do something.”
DeCourt took the idea to Jane Braud, the Director of Planning and Zoning and the Certified Director of the Main Street Program. So with the assistance of a group of community minded individuals who shared their passion for restoring Church Alley, including Iberia On Tap, Braud and DeCourt began to seek funds for the project. In 2013, New Iberia Mayor Hilda Daigre Curry encouraged Braud to pursue funding with the City Council’s Resolution of Approval.
In March of 2014, Braud submitted an application to the Federal Highway Administration Recreational Trails Program that included a narrative, maps photographs, a Scope of Works and a budget. On Sept. 15, 2015, Mayor Curry received a letter from Cleve Hardman, Director of Outdoor Recreation – State of Louisiana Office of the Lieutenant, stating that the Church Alley Project had received provisional approval for funds in the amount of $89,367. Mayor Curry explains what she believes the renovations will provide to the community.
“Church Alley Park will be a great addition to Main Street,” Curry states. “Characteristically, it will be a mini park, which can host small events or provide additional space for large Main Street activities. It can create a pleasant environment for meeting friends, serve as a place to relax or take a lunch break. The park will also provide a point of connection for the 3.2-mile bike trail that will run through New Iberia’s National Historic District.”
The renovations to Church Alley not covered by the nearly $90,000 grant are provided by the city’s 20 percent match and individuals and businesses within the community. As in-kind services applied to the city’s 20 percent match, CLECO, Public Works and Parks and Recreations removed trees and relocated infrastructures. In addition, DeCourt’s role didn’t end at being the visionary of the transformation. He donated his services to provide the design drawings, bicycle trail maps, cost estimates for the infrastructure and equipment. DeCourt volunteered to oversee the project to completion.
“I submitted and put together the designs for the renovation and the budget cost so that we had something to go to for the grant,” DeCourt elaborates of his services to the project. “I’ve already gotten the sub-quotes and general contractors. I’m kind of just behind the scenes on this project. I donated the drawings and now my job is just to prod it along and make sure everything keeps going. I’m not doing this for a job – this is just something I really want to see happen.”
Just A Phase
Phase I of the renovation will be focused on creating the Church Alley Trail. It will serve as the trailhead connector, or starting point, for the 3.2-mile bicycle trail that will run to New Iberia City Park then to Lewis Street and return to Church Alley. The bicycle trail, which crosses the Bayou Teche, will follow Main Street through the Downtown Commercial Historic District and through the National Register Residential District. Construction to the trailhead will include an ADA-compliant entry ramp, de-grassing, grading and leveling of the surface area to receive a stamped and painted concrete finish. There will also be new concrete pavers on the 162x14 area.
“The Church Alley trailhead connector will act as a connector for the bicycle trail,” states Braud. “There will be no need for new construction of the bicycle trail as a roadway is existing and will include a striped roadway, an installed directional, road safety signage and an informational kiosk located in the alley.”
Aside from the necessary additions for the trailhead connector, Church Alley will be receiving brick pavers, two benches, one trash receptacle, four to five freestanding planters, one bicycle stand and one way finding sign. Phase II of the renovations will address the vehicular section of Church Alley that will be accessed from St. Peter Street. At this time, the details for improvements and the Scope of Work are being discussed. Renovations will begin in 2016 and are expected to be completed quickly. DeCourt says he is excited to see what the renovations will add to the community.
“We’re taking something that has a really unique history that I believe needs to be celebrated,” DeCourt says. “It’s time that we take that area and make it an asset to the community again. Once the pocket park is complete, it’s going to open up a lot of opportunities for development. It’s easy to imagine merchants displaying their wares out there. I think it will be a wonderful asset to Art Walk. It’s just going to be a great little spot that will tell the story of our community.”
Local businessman and developer Barry Guillotte also sees the potential in Chuch Alley. Guillotte owns three of the buildings along the alley, one of which was designed in the 30s by famed architect and New Iberia native Owen Southwell. One of the buildings will act as a residence, so there will be people living on Church Alley. The second building will be an office space. As for the third building, Guillotte has no shortage of ideas, but remains undecided.
“We’re going to save some of these historic buildings,” Guillotte explains. “These buildings are beautiful; the architecture is really incredible. We’re going to spruce them up and make them look great again. Church Alley is going to look like a little European street in Paris. I’m going to put planter boxes in front of all of my buildings. It’s going to be great for Main Street events.”
Members and leaders of the community anxious to see Church Alley renovated weren’t shy with their support. During the grant phase of the project, letters of endorsements came from state Reps. Taylor Barras and Terry Landry, state Sen. Fred Mills, the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce, Bayou Bindery, La Asociacion Española de Nueva Iberia, Iberia Parish Convention & Visitors Bureaus, DJW Insurance, Bayou Teche Museum and the Shadows-on-the-Teche. Braud relates that Curator of Education for the Shadows-on-the-Teche Catherine Schramm’s letter of support perfectly summed up why Church Alley will be so important to Main Street and the community as a whole.
“New Iberia has been recognized as on of the top ten Main Streets in the country,” Schramm wrote. “Additionally, New Iberia’s Main Street won accolades from Forbes as a top town to visit. New Iberia’s Main Street draws both visitors and community members for activities in downtown. Church Alley represents the historic center to New Iberia’s earliest commercial history. It’s location remains vital today as a corridor to events downtown. With the interpretative information available to everyone at this location, the story of its past can be connected to its present function – linking pedestrian paths through the most highly utilized streets in the community.”