Donaldsonville Downtown Development District wins national award, reaffirms Main Street accreditation for 2022

Staff Report
The Ascension Parish Courthouse in Donaldsonville, located in the city's historic district, is shown in a file photo.

The Donaldsonville Downtown Development District has been selected as a Top 100 National Award Winner of the 2021 Small Town American Civic Award.

The Small-Town America Civic Volunteer Award is an annual program that honors 100 extraordinary public service volunteer organizations in municipalities with populations under 25,000.

It spotlights the urgent need for citizens to fill critical civic volunteer roles including local government boards and councils such as the Donaldsonville Downtown Development District that supports key local government functions.

Awards were made directly to the local governments represented by the award winners and were intended to support the retention and recruitment of local public service volunteers.

“Research shows that the percent of people volunteering in small communities and rural counties has dropped substantially over the last 12 years,” said Lee Melancon, Director of Community and Economic Development. “Civic volunteerism is the lifeblood of small towns in rural America,” he concluded.

“The award is intended to help address the critical shortage by recognizing and supporting ‘hometown heroes,’ and by promoting best practices designed to spur new civic volunteers to fill these vital roles,” said Juanita Pearley, DDD Commissioner and Executive Director for the Donaldsonville Chamber of Commerce.

The Donaldsonville Downtown Development District’s Main Street Program has once again been designated as an accredited Main Street program for meeting rigorous performance standards.

Each year, Main Street America and its partners announce the list of accredited programs to recognize their exceptional commitment to preservation-based economic development and community revitalization through the Main Street Approach.

“We are extremely proud to recognize this year’s 863 nationally Accredited Main Street America programs that have worked tirelessly to advance economic vitality and quality of life in their downtowns and commercial districts,” said Patrice Frey, President & CEO of Main Street America. “During another incredibly challenging year, these programs demonstrated the power of the Main Street movement to respond to the needs of their communities. I am inspired by their steadfast leadership and innovative solutions to drive essential local recovery efforts, support small businesses, and nurture vibrant downtown districts."

In 2021, Main Street America programs generated $5.76 billion in local reinvestment, helped open 6,601 net new businesses, generated 30,402 net new jobs, catalyzed the rehabilitation of 10,595 historic buildings, and leveraged 1,427,729 volunteer hours. On average, for every dollar that a Main Street program spent to support their operations, it generated $19.34 of new investment back into Main Street communities.

The Donaldsonville Downtown Development District’s performance is annually evaluated by Louisiana Main Street, which works in partnership with Main Street America to identify the local programs that meet 10 national performance standards.

Evaluation criteria determines the communities that are building meaningful and sustainable revitalization programs and include standards such as, fostering strong public-private partnerships, documenting programmatic progress, and actively preserving historic buildings.

“The Donaldsonville Downtown Development District / Donaldsonville Main Street Program has consistently earned this prestigious designation for over fifteen years for the work they do to promote the City of Donaldsonville and is visible by the re-investment and revitalization taking place downtown,” said Mayor Leroy J. Sullivan, Sr.

“The Commission actively engages in providing site selection for developers and investors, offer programs, events, festivals, and collaborate with small business development organizations, the Donaldsonville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Ascension Parish Tourism Commission, and other nationally accredited Main Street Programs across the country to further their mission to revitalize and preserve historic downtown Donaldsonville which has had a positive impact on development throughout our City,” he said.

“I appreciate the efforts of the staff and volunteer commissioners who have made these well-deserved recognitions possible and from their plans, I can see there is much more positive recognition to come,” he concluded.

The Donaldsonville Downtown Development District is operated in the Mayor’s Office of Community & Economic Development and this year was selected as the only program to be admitted into the prestigious University of Texas at Austin’s XLR8 Program for excellence in Strategic Planning.

The committee led by the city’s Director of Community and Economic Development, Lee Melancon, partnered with Juanita Pearley, Executive Director of the Donaldsonville Area Chamber of Commerce, and Kate MacArthur, President and CEO of Ascension Economic Development Program. The 2021-2022 DDDD volunteer Commissioners are led by Chairwoman, Bianca Phillips, local business owner, resident, and Branch Manager of Hancock Whitney Bank located in Donaldsonville. Other members of the Commission include Vice Chair Megan Phillips, Secretary / Treasurer Juanita Pearley, and Commissioners-at-Large, Oliver Joseph, James Neville, Scott Charleville, Natalie Noel, James Moore, and Reagan Katz.

“We are extremely proud of the accomplishments of our program and look forward to launching the new strategic plan which was adopted by the City Council earlier this month,” said Chairwoman Bianca Phillips. “We have worked tirelessly to ‘re-think’ the role of the Commission and Main Street Program as “event planners” and are focusing much more heavily on attracting developers and investors to our community as well as encouraging our local owners to ‘re-invest’ into the City,” she said.

“We are proud to partner with the numerous developers who have announced restorations and new development into the District and have numerous additional announcements to make once they are solidified,” said Megan Philips, Vice Chair of the Commission.

“There is no doubt, everyone has noticed all the new construction, restoration and investment occurring in the City in particular, the downtown area, which we have learned and realize that communities across this nation are bringing people back to downtown,” she said.

“We will soon be launching a mural design concept challenge and have proposed to have the concept mural created on the side of one of our local businesses to offer a backdrop for visitors to remember their visit to Donaldsonville and tell the story of our past as well as our future,” she concluded.

“We know that bringing more residents to live and shop in the ‘heart of community’ (downtown) that we will continue to see positive growth around the district,” said Juanita Pearley of the Donaldsonville Chamber of Commerce. “It is happening everyday already,” she concluded.

“Since 2015, developers have been awarded over one-half million dollars in grant funds through national, regional, and statewide grant programs to redevelop historic and abandoned buildings,” said Lee Melancon, City of Donaldsonville Director of Community & Economic Development.

“Additionally, local commercial business owners have earned over 25 million dollars in tax credit programs; one of the largest users of tax credit programs in Louisiana for our size,” he said.

“We are now incredibly enthusiastic to lend our support to the numerous developments including the B. Lemann & Brothers project, the Noel Distillery, the Ascension Parish Library renovation, River Parish’s Community College, Treasure House/The Capital Restaurant revitalization, La Cocina Restaurant, Gaston’s BBQ & Beer, The Guinchard Center for the Arts, Crescent Park Playground renovation, four historic nonprofit preservation projects, and numerous residential restoration projects which total nearly 40 million investment dollars and have and continue to create jobs; many are hiring today,” he said.

“Downtown Donaldsonville will continue to see re-investment and revitalization,” said District 5 City Councilman Michael W. Sullivan, Sr. “I am personally leading a beautification committee to clean areas located in and around the district and with the support of numerous partners, led the effort with Mayor Sullivan to project manage the renovation of the Lemann Memorial Center,” he said.

“We have more to do, but we are extremely enthusiastic about the future. “We appreciate the partnership with the Mayor, the City leadership, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, the Ascension Parish Tourism Commission, the Donaldsonville Historic District Commission, local investors, realtors, and all the supporting partners who make the Downtown Development District successful,” he said.

For more information about the Donaldsonville Downtown Development District / Main Street Program, visit www.donaldsonville-la.gov under the commissions tab.