Downtown Crowley is experiencing a growth spurt when it comes to new businesses.
There are just under 100 businesses in the area with roughly 1,000 jobs. Half of those businesses came in after the renovations of the Grand Opera House and City Hall in 2009, according to the Acadia Parish Chamber of Commerce.
For decades, the Grand Opera House sat basically untouched. Until 1999, when LJ Gielen and his family bought it and spent years restoring it for its original purpose.
“I said ‘well we can’t let that go.’ So I said we gotta restore it,” said Gielen. “We always appreciated Crowley and we knew we had a beautiful downtown. Except at one point, it was a little stagnant and not as pretty as it could be. So when we did the opera house, we said ‘maybe it’ll give it a little boost.’ But that wasn’t the intention of the opera house. It was to bring the arts back to Louisiana.”
But he never anticipated its re-opening to attract as many new businesses and tourists as it has in the past years.
“We’re in our 11th season right now and when we were restoring this building, people would laugh at us. [They’d say] ‘no way it can make anything.’ Now, we’re not here setting the world on fire making money, but we just keep plugging and each year it gets better than the year before,” he said proudly.
The president and CEO of the Acadia Parish Chamber of Commerce has a personal connection to the opera house. She and her husband were the first to get married there once it was finished.
“The opera house really has served as the starting point, as the anchor in what draws people in, each year probably thousands of people come to weddings and events and shows and things that happen here. And it really serves as a great community center for Crowley,” said Thibodeaux.
Before the Grand Opera House was renovated, there were more than a dozen vacant buildings. Now, there are only three left in the downtown area and most of those have already been bought with plans for more renovations.
Thibodeaux said the efforts of the key players, like Gielen, who decided to invest in the downtown area, turned it into what it is today.
“Under Mayor Isabella De La Houssaye’s term, she did a ‘streetscape’ of all of Downtown Parkerson Ave. And with that also came the renovations of the opera house and city hall. Without that vision, I don’t think we’d be here today. I think we’d still be with a dismal, sort of vacant downtown,” she said.
Gielen said him and his wife have grown to love it so much, they decided to move into an apartment across the street from the opera house a year ago.
“People love it when they come. It’s a perfect location on Main Street,” he said. “You have to use all your resources and then everything comes to fruition. Our Main Street will continue growing and getting prettier and prettier.”