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GMA Dave Trips: New Iberia brings new life to historic downtown locations

Posted: 7:34 AM, Aug 24, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-24 08:34:53-04

Over 180 years ago, settlers along the Bayou Teche were part of the beginning of a thriving community. As agriculture flourished and the community grew, it was a favorable time for a new church to be built. Church Alley was part of a donation for that new church.

“Frederic Duperier had laid this out when he laid out the town and incorporated it to have a view from the church to his house,” explains New Iberia Mayor Freddie DeCourt. “Later that became Mt. Carmel.”

Unfortunately, Mr. Duperier never saw the church from his home.

“Two or three weeks after incorporating the town, donating the land and putting it all together, he passed away.”

Later his home was sold to the congregation of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel and opened as a Catholic school for girls. That school remained open until 1988. The girls and the nuns would use Church Alley to attend mass at St. Peter’s. Over time it became underutilized.

“I would ride my bike through here,” says Mayor Decourt.  “I remember seeing it, it was a sidewalk and some tall grass and just kind of a cut through.”

Mayor DeCourt and Jane Braud, Director of Planning, Zoning, and Grants realized Church Alley needed a makeover. The project took over a decade to get started.

“We finally came upon the Louisiana Recreational Trails Grant which was a perfect fit for this project,” says Braud.

It created the Church Alley Pocket Park and a three and a half mile bike trail through two national register historic districts. That’s right, two!

“We own the Shadows on the Teche which is located on Main street. It’s a national trust property, so it’s the only property on a Main Street in a Main Street program. The only one in the whole country!”

Architect Paul Allain, grew up in New Iberia and was happy to get involved.

“It was a space between two buildings it was very blighted. The concept of these pocket parks seems to be an interesting development that Louisiana is pushing,” says Allain. “It gives the opportunity to create these trails between historic structures.”

His design helps to contain the space.

“We did an aspiring sort of creation with the arches to contain the space so it wasn’t just open to the air. It’s really interesting at night because the lights light up and it gives a canopy effect.”

The project only ran into a few delays, but they worked together with the building owners, contractors, and utilities.

“The utility companies who were servicing these areas wanted to take care of some abandoned lines that were here to bring them up to their standards so we took advantage of the opportunity to do that.”

It’s part of a larger project to redevelop downtown and expand to benefit more people.

The George Rodrigue Park, the expansion of the museum, and construction of the marina adjacent to the boardwalk are just a few of the projects taking place.

The redevelopment is meant to help bring the community together and benefit the businesses of New Iberia.

” The success is attributed to our downtown investors,” says Braud. “They take it upon themselves to invest their dollars and it just adds the vibrancy and the excitement of downtown.”

Mayor DeCourt adds that “anytime you can enhance downtown, it’s another opportunity to tell that story. As a whole, it brings downtown more to the forefront.”