St. Charles seeking stories of Paul Maillard

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 2, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

HAHNVILLE – Paul Maillard Road was a thriving main street in old Luling and Boutte during its heyday. Even today, the road still serves its purpose as a channel connecting River Road and Louisiana Highway 90. Visitors who are not from the local area would never guess its former glory based on appearances, however…
“There’s definitely a rich history in the corridor, and you can hear it. But when you drive down the corridor and you’re not from here, what’s built there and what’s on both sides of the road doesn’t really suggest to the average visitor that there’s a rich history,” said Marny Stein, development review planner for St. Charles Parish. “It hasn’t been well preserved in the built environment, so we need people to tell us what it was.”
In the initial phase of their project, the St. Charles Parish Planning and Zoning Department has partnered with the Economic Development and Tourism department to begin creating a custom plan to restore the road to a state that would recall its past distinction while adding in much-needed improvements. The Planning and Zoning Department invited locals to submit their memories of life along the road to them, along with pictures and other recollections where available. The project is more expansive than it was expected to be and is shaping up to be an oral history of sorts.
“I’m not calling it an oral history. That was originally the idea. You know, (like) Storycorps, have people just talk and chat about it. But cataloging those and making those meaningful for the project is an absolutely monumental task,” said Stein. “So we scaled it down, decided to start with the submission. Based on the quality of those submissions, we’ll email back and forth for people to fill in gaps if they’re comfortable that way and schedule interviews.”
The project received a $442,422 grant from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities in 2011, a highly competitive program. According to Stein, this is only the second year the government has offered the money. The 20-year comprehensive program aims to not only restore the road but also to breathe new life into the surrounding communities superficially by improving general transportation and the possible addition of sidewalks and bicycle linkages, and economically by encouraging new complimentary businesses to take root in the area and bolstering established businesses, thereby creating jobs. The St. Charles Parish Hospital is also a big economic component, as it draws a lot of the traffic on the roadway and adds jobs.
“We completed a comprehensive plan in 2011 that’s a 20-year vision document for the parish. There were a number of parishwide goals set forth out of that process. One of the main goals that came out of it was to look at increasing the quality of life of the citizens,” said Kim Marousek, director of St. Charles parish Planning and Zoning Department. “A second goal was to look at reinvesting in our existing commercial and residential areas. A key project that was identified was to look at the Paul Maillard corridor as an area that was, in the past, a thriving commercial corridor and see what we could do as a parish to help revitalize it, with maybe more housing choices for people, better transportation alternatives. How do we get people connected to the services and businesses that are on the corridor?”
The project has several prongs that will require the cooperation of several partners, such as the St. Charles Parish Hospital, the St. Charles Parish School System, the Regional Planning Commission, the River Parishes Transit Authority, Family Resources of New Orleans and the Center for Planning Excellence. Marousek feels the support they received from the various partners is part of the reason they were chosen for funding.
“Each one of those partners brings together their expertise and their interests in the corridor to the table,” she said.
Both Stein and Marousek think it is important for the public to understand that while there may be immediate changes, the project is long-term overall — 20 years is the scope of the initial plan, but more immediate changes may be seen within 10 to 15 years.
The pair expects to begin public outreach for the project sometime during the spring after Mardi Gras holidays now that a timeline has been nailed down. Stein said that during this time, the project committee is open to suggestions from all people, even if they live outside of the study area. This is mainly because they realize people may have migrated away from the area over time but may still have something valuable to contribute.
“If they have community groups that they want us to come speak to about the project, church groups or civic organizations or groups of neighbors that get together and want more information, we’re willing to take it to the street,” said Marousek.
“It’s a parish project, and anybody who has an opinion they want to share with us, we’ll welcome it,” said Stein.
As far as submissions go, Stein said she expects there to be several memorable heydays depending on the age groups that write in, but the most important element missing from what she has received so far is a timeframe.
“You know, a couple of people who had businesses (then) have submitted, and it’s really sweet stuff. But now I need to know when the business was open. We’re going have to go back and get them to identify times that the businesses were open,” said Stein.
Marousek and Stein agreed they probably will continue accepting submissions throughout the project because it is important to keep the community engaged so there are no surprises as the project moves forward. The submissions themselves are also an important exercise in community bonding overall.
“The continual comments we received about how important the history of the parish is to people, it’s a key piece of how residents of St. Charles Parish identify themselves,” said Marousek. “And so for us to look at a renewal project, we felt that we couldn’t even begin to look at how we want to change the corridor until we get a grasp on how people remembered it when it was in it’s heyday. Because we know whatever we come up with in the future has to be true to the past.”