Building and restoring your downtown

Leslie D. Rose @DvilleNewsie
Louisiana Square Park, Donaldsonville

Located along the River Road of the west bank of the Mississippi River, Donaldsonville's Historic District has what has been described as the finest collection of buildings from the antebellum era to 1933, of any of the Louisiana river towns above New Orleans. It's a city steeped in rich history from Union forces attacking and occupying the city beginning in 1862 - gaining it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places - to being the home to the country's first-ever African American mayor, Pierre Caliste Landry (1868). 

And now residents want to preserve and refresh the historic city. 

The City of Donaldsonville Downtown Development District (DDD), in partnership with the City Councilmen and Mayor Sullivan, have scheduled community town hall meetings in each district in Donaldsonville. Citizens, clergy, business leaders, community activists and community partners are invited to participate.

The purpose of the meetings is to gain input and feedback from the community in order to complete the city’s economic revitalization program. The program is designed to explore social, educational, technological, workforce, environmental and economic factors contributing to the community’s future impact on the people and the region.

"We hope the community will come out and give their ideas on what they think needs to happen, or how we can move the city forward - not just the downtown development area, but the city as a whole," Mayor Leroy Sullivan said.

Conversations will include the community’s desires for targeted businesses, opportunities to improve education and employment, environmental improvements, and other areas such as small business ownership, access to lending, social and mental health, literacy improvement, access to affordable housing, recreation, entertainment, festivals and events, and tourism.

While considering all of the aforementioned reasons to host the meetings, DDD Executive Director Lee Melancon said he hopes that people will also remember to enjoy, and restore the history of Donaldsonville.

"I encourage everyone to visit Louisiana Square and hear the sounds of the courthouse and church bells and smell the sweet olive in the air," Melancon said. "There are few places in Louisiana where one can still experience these things. I encourage our residents to look at the historic buildings and homes and not see boarded up and hopeless structures, but to see the architecture, wood work, and over 200 years of our family’s histories that have walked those corridors."

While the DDD primarily focuses on the downtown area, Melancon said that the Mayor, City Council, and DDD Commissioners felt it critical to have everyone’s input in order to create a Donaldsonville for all the people with a vibrant and growing downtown that everyone can be proud of and an economy where all can thrive and prosper.

"To me, ideally, Donaldsonville is a place where the diverse cultures of people can come together to create a vision that represents us all, especially our children," Melancon said. "Since Donaldsonville is the second most historic city in Louisiana, only next to New Orleans, it is essential that we preserve our past history which has made us so unique today.

We also, should be reminded that Donaldsonville can do what every small town in Louisiana has done to revitalize old buildings with new businesses, create jobs that are both connected to industry as well as other economic assets in the community."

The meetings, open to all residents, will be hosted in each district. District 1 meeting with Lauthaught Delaney, Sr. will be held at 6 p.m. on June 2 at Mt. Triumph Baptist Church. District 2 meeting with Raymond Aucoin will be held at 6 p.m. on June 13 at Donaldsonville High School. District 3 meeting with Reginald L. Francis Sr. will be held at 6 p.m. on June 9 at the George Blum Center. District 4 meeting with the Rev. Charles Brown Sr. will be held at 6:30 p.m. on June 1 at the Emanuel Baptist Church. A community and merchant’s meeting for District 5 has been scheduled, but no word yet on its status in light of the untimely passing of Councilman Emile J. Spano who represented the district. A final wrap-up session, which will include the findings and solicitation of community ambassadors, will be held on June 30 at the Ascension Parish Library in Donaldsonville.

"We're having meetings in all of the districts so we can get the voices of our entire community, and that way we can put all of our heads together and try to move the City of Donaldsonville forward with great ideas and great communication," Sullivan said.

Melancon also holds personal hopes for the town hall meetings, including the desire that they will inspire and engage the people of Donaldsonville to look at the city in a different perspective.

"Appreciate her beauty, take pride in how Donaldsonville helped to shape the state and nation’s place in history," Melancon said. "This cannot be done unless everyone, and I stress everyone, gets involved.

There are a tremendous amount of opportunities surrounding our city currently, and all of our city, parish, and state leaders are coming together to help us with this initiative to ensure that we don’t miss these opportunities while they are here and presenting us with another chance to make Donaldsonville a great place to visit, live, and retire."

For more information about the town hall meetings, contact (225) 445-1383 or email Lee@VisitDonaldsonville.org.