Merchants discuss downtown's future

Leslie D. Rose @DvilleNewsie
Donaldsonville Downtown Development District Executive Director, Lee Melancon

In the newly renovated and ready-for-business reception hall of Triple M Bridal Boutique, fewer than ten Donaldsonville merchants met for a town hall discussion on the future of the downtown area.

Lee Melancon, Executive Director for the Donaldsonville Downtown Development District, facilitated the discussion, highlighting 12 points of infrastructure, along with resident needs and requests.

While the focus of the meeting was to discuss the downtown area, Melancon - a Donaldsonville native - made note to mention the entire city.

"Downtown cannot exist without the entire city," Melancon said. "Both of these have to be addressed."

He said merchants should consider what the sales pitch for Donaldsonville would be - river, bayou, tourism, historic value as the third oldest city in the state, and city with the second largest historic district.

"There's a huge movement across the globe for visiting historic districts with true history," Melancon said. "It's what we think is going to be driving the tourism - Ascension Parish doesn't have a tourism product if we don't exist."

The emphasis was then placed on making the city healthy and ready for visit. Melancon said one of the first steps is to clean the city up for tourism, noting that when visitors come and see dilapidated and abandoned buildings and homes, it's hard to change any negative perception.

"Instead of changing the markets, change the infrastructure," he said.

Along those lines, the city has given approval for the Louisiana Historical Trust Foundation to renovate four homes/structures. In order for a structure to be considered for the program, it must meet three criteria in that the structure must have been home to a historic figure, is 50 years or older with significant architecture, is targeted for demolition. A total of 51 structures meet at least two of the criteria, with 36 structures in the historic district meeting all. Further details on the renovations and the program are available through City Council.

The Downtown Development District, recognizing the immediate need for infrastructure restoration, will have commissioners, pending city approval, to work towards each of the 12 points, ensuring items are being handled and that community needs are being addressed.

Among community needs, residents had discussed in district town hall meeting that they would like programming, educational resources, things to do and housing.

Residents noted that there is a homeless population in the city, including squatters in abandoned homes. Melancon said that a lot of people aren't aware of the homeless population, but Mayor Leroy Sullivan acknowledged that the city is aware and is working on a fix. Other needs that were expressed are shelters, recreation centers, daycare, social, mental and substance abuse counseling without fear of privacy rights violation. Melancon said that many of the resources residents spoke of needing are actually available, and so the further need would be public awareness. He is working on addressing some of the missing items as soon as this summer, including bringing the Boys & Girls Club to Donaldsonville.

Residents discussed wanting job placement and training programs, parks and recreation and an urgent care facility. Recreational desires include a movie theatre, fashion store, Smoothie King, Italian and Mexican restaurants, Waffle House, Raising Canes, Quizno's, a tech store for gaming and computer needs, a thrift store and Huddle House.

Melancon also addressed concern about the lower income population of Donaldsonville.

"We have to worry about our entire population," he said in regards to securing programming and services for the highlighted needs of lower income residents to benefit the entire city.

A community wrap-up meeting will be held at 6 p.m. on June 30 at the Donaldsonville branch library, where all findings from each town hall meeting will be addressed.