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New life breathed into St. Rose de Lima

The partners may have changed over the past five or so years, but the intent to redevelop the former St. Rose de Lima Church and School campus on Bayou Road off of North Broad Street into a vibrant performing arts and education hub called Bayou Treme Center has remained the same.

On Feb. 18, it was announced that the Bayou Treme Center was one step closer to becoming a reality. The original nonprofit Rose Community Development Corporation, in partnership with Alembic Community Development, procured a major tenant – Southern Rep Theatre – to occupy the church on Bayou Road.

The theatre will be the centerpiece of the re-energized project and will reside inside the old Gothic-Tudor-style church, said Jonathan Leit, director of the New Orleans office of Alembic Community Development.

The space that Southern Rep will occupy constitutes approximately one-fourth the leasable space of 47,000 square feet on the St. Rose de Lima site. Two additional school buildings on neighboring Columbus Street make up the remaining space, and Leit said he is currently in negotiations to lease other space to an existing school operator and other businesses looking for office space.

Theater is anchor
The theater will occupy the 13,400-square-foot church (built in 1915 and closed in 2006) and also include a 125-seat main stage proscenium, a 65-seat Lagniappe Stage that can be converted into a cabaret or black-box configuration for other community theater troupes to use and an outdoor stage. As many of the architectural features of the church as possible will be retained.

“This historic building is the perfect home for Southern Rep Theatre,” said Aimée Hayes, producing artistic director for Southern Rep Theatre. “It offers everything we have envisioned in our search for a permanent space. The prospect of making theatre at this historic crossroads of New Orleans is inspiring and humbling for us.”

The cost of redevelopment is projected to be $11 million, Leit said.  Renovations on all three buildings will be done simultaneously and are expected to begin in early 2017.

“We are anticipating using historic tax credits for the project,” Leit said. “It’s very minor work on the facade and some roof repair and mechanical and electrical work. The buildings are in pretty good condition. It’s really modernizing them and preparing them for new tenants.”

In the works for years
Even though Hurricane Katrina brought water to the area surrounding the campus, the buildings on site were spared major damage (except for the electrical and mechanical equipment under the church), making the project attractive for development.

In 2008, when the idea surfaced to turn the shuttered parish – one of the largest pieces of property in the Bayou Road Recovery Zone after Hurricane Katrina – into an arts and education campus, Rose Community Development was working with the neighborhood and partners, led by Hal Brown. The Bayou Treme Center, LLC, presented a proposal to the Archdiocese of New Orleans to redevelop St. Rose de Lima, and, in September 2010, a long-term lease agreement with an option to purchase in five years was reached.

Brown unexpectedly died in 2013, and his wife, Shawn Kennedy, is now board president of Rose Community Development Corporation. She said, over the years, several developers had approached the board about such things as condos for the property, but the board wasn’t looking for a totally for-profit concept and has worked tirelessly to maintain the arts and entertainment concept.

When the five-year mark approached, the current partners decided to exercise the purchase option to acquire the property. Because the former parish rectory, now leased by the Religious of the Sacred Heart, was never included in the deal, the archdiocese had to obtain a variance with the city of New Orleans to subdivide the property, said Liz Lacombe, director of the property and building management office for the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Alembic and Rose Community Development Corporation will jointly own the remaining parish campus.

"We’re in in final process now, and hope to close within next two to three weeks,” Lacombe said.

The partners are working on the project with MetroStudio architects on preliminary drawings, Ryan Gootee General Contractors and Spackman Mossop Michaels landscape architects.

Leit said an anchor project like Southern Rep’s new theater at the Bayou Treme Center would augment other recent improvements made in the area.

“I think Bayou Road has seen a lot of redevelopment,” Leit said. “The city has put in streetscape money (improvements to infrastructure, streets and sidewalks), and New Orleans Redevelopment Authority has put money into facades of area businesses, and there has been investment by business owners. ... We think it’s a great corridor, and this will help existing businesses by drawing traffic in an exciting way to the great cultural institutions already on Bayou Road.”

Kennedy sees the future of Bayou Treme Center as a fitting way to honor her husband and a project that will rejuvenate the area.

“I think Hal would be delighted about the changes on Broad Street and would be happy to see that this happened, not in a vacuum, but with a coalition of community organizations that have worked to transform the neighborhood as a whole,” Kennedy said.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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