Vacant Church Complex To House Bayou Treme Center For Arts & Education

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The former St. Rose de Lima Church and School on Bayou Road, vacant for more than a decade, are a step closer to revival.

         The New Orleans City Council signed off this week on plans to transform the three-building complex in the 7th Ward into the Bayou Treme Center for Arts & Education, a performing arts and education hub.

         When work is complete in 2018, the buildings will house Southern Rep Theatre, a 30-year-old regional theater; the Waldorf School of New Orleans, an arts-based private school; and ready-to-lease office spaces.

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         "These are beautiful, historic, long-vacant buildings that we are excited to be able to put back into commerce," said Jonathan Leit of Alembic Community Development, one of two organizations behind the project.

         Plans to transform the church at 2527 Bayou Road and its two former schoolhouses into a multipurpose complex have been in the works for years, though the players involved have changed over time.

         The concept first took root in 2008, when the Rose Community Development Corp. and the Downtown Neighborhoods Improvement Association got Bayou Road designated as one of the city's 17 recovery zones after Hurricane Katrina.

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         Hal Brown, a retired private equity investor and former charter school board president who helped plan several recovery projects after the storm, was the force behind that move. Brown worked with neighbors and the Archdiocese of New Orleans on plans to lease and eventually buy the space.

         The site later became eligible for key state and federal historic rehabilitation tax incentives under the state's Cultural Districts program.

         Signing up to move in were Lagniappe Academies, a charter school that has since closed, and NewCorp, a business development center.

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         The Gothic Tudor-style church was expected to double as a multipurpose rental hall most of the week and a house of worship on Sundays, and a $10 million renovation plan was in motion, with a planned completion date of 2013.

         But Brown began to rethink the rental hall idea, worried it wouldn't produce enough revenue, and then he died in April 2013.

         Shawn Kennedy, his wife, eventually took up the project. She and others worked to find a developer who would support their arts and education vision, and they found one in Alembic, which helped them purchase the campus and secure new partners to inhabit it.

         "All the people involved have been extraordinarily valuable to us getting this far without my husband," Kennedy said Friday. "I'm thankful that all of these people are people who are dedicated to New Orleans, dedicated to this neighborhood and committed to getting this thing right."

         The first of the new partners was Southern Rep, a company that has been in residence at Loyola University since November but has essentially roamed since it lost its longtime lease at Canal Place in 2012.

         It will occupy a 13,400-square-foot theater complex in the former church, including a 125-seat main stage theater, a 65-seat Lagniappe stage, an outdoor stage, administrative offices, rehearsal room and a bar and cafe.

         A big draw for the company was Bayou Road itself, with its history as one of the oldest thoroughfares in New Orleans and as a magnet for free people of color in the 1800s, Southern Rep director Aimee Hayes said.

         "We will finally have a storefront presence within a community that is vibrant, that has a presence," Hayes said. "We as artists want to highlight that and keep the drive alive for what makes New Orleans unique."

         The second tenant to sign on was Waldorf, a pre-K through 8 school founded on a commitment to the arts. Enrollment has grown considerably over the years, and the school, now housed in two Uptown locations, will get to combine them in the 23,000-square-foot schoolhouse, said Margaret Runyon, the school's enrollment and outreach director.

         "We were absolutely thrilled at the prospect of being in this beautiful historic structure," Runyon said of the three-story former St. Rose de Lima School, adding that Waldorf will offer at least one scholarship per grade for a student who lives in the neighborhood.

         A site plan filed with the city calls for three play spaces for the school's nursery, its preschool and its upper grades, and a separate space for parking.

         A second 10,500-square-foot, two-story school building on Columbus Street will be redeveloped as office space for small businesses and nonprofits. The council's vote Thursday was to approve permits for the office use.

Construction will start in the spring, Leit said.

         – by AP/ Reporter Jessica Williams with The New Orleans Advocate



*Ryan Gootee General Contractors, LLC is the contractor on this project. 



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