It’s hard to imagine what an area will look like 20 years from now, but if St. Charles Parish has their way Paul Maillard Road in Luling could be lined with shopping centers, sidewalks and bike paths after an aggressive redevelopment project slated to begin next year.
The revitalization effort is only in its beginning stages after the parish received a $442,422 grant from the federal government and a matching $184,595 grant from the parish meant to develop a plan to steer the future of the 2.6-mile roadway connecting River Road to Highway 90.
Paul Maillard was once a thriving commercial area
Kim Marousek, director of Planning and Zoning, said the redevelopment effort came out of a 20-year comprehensive land use plan released by the parish in 2011. She said that planning for the redevelopment is currently ongoing with implementation set for some time in 2014.
"Paul Maillard Road is an area that at one point in time was kind of a thriving commercial area and in the last 20 to 30 years it really has been an area of decline," she said.
Part of the parish’s effort at spreading information about the project is an effort called ‘Paul Maillard Stories’ in which parish residents share their memories from when the road was a center for commerce in Luling.
"How do we make it come back to its place of former glory?" Marousek said.
She said the redevelopment effort is essentially a plan to increase the quality of life for parish residents who live, work and shop in the area of Paul Maillard Road.
"We are at a place where we are probably not going to be growing by leaps and bounds in this community, so what do we need to do in order to target the type of growth we want?" Marousek said. "We don’t want to just grow with no purpose. If we are going to grow we want to grow in a way that improves the look and feel of the community."
DOTD plans to widen road
Concurrent with the parish’s redevelopment efforts are plans by the state Department of Transportation and Development to redevelop Paul Maillard Road, which is also known as state route LA 52.
The DOTD has already begun feasibility plans focused on widening the road. As it is now, the narrow two lane thoroughfare has no shoulder in many places and deep ditches on either side with no sidewalks for pedestrians.
"The way the road is designed will have an impact on the way development around it happens," Marousek said. "If we get one chance in 20 years for DOTD to make a significant investment in that infrastructure, then we really ought to consider closely how we want that road to work."
To gauge the wants of those in the community, the Planning and Zoning Department intends on hosting a series of meetings beginning this summer to gauge response in the area.
"Do we want a four lane road? Do we want a two lane road with sidewalks and bike lanes? Do we want to see infrastructure, such as sub-surface drainage, dealt with or not?" Marousek said. "These are all questions that the community needs to consider and talk about."
St. Charles Parish Hospital CEO Fred Martinez was a member of the comprehensive land use committee and is also part of the redevelopment committee.
He said taking care of the road is the first thing that needs to happen.
"We are worried about the roadways. I’ve personally seen plenty of people, including kids, jump in the ditches from the roadway. It’s amazing how many people have to walk on that road without sidewalks," Martinez said. "Also, for cars driving around Paul Maillard you can easily end up in one of the ditches."
Tinyknee Williams, who lives on Paul Maillard Road, pushes her grandchildren along the narrow road in a stroller to a community grocery store a few times a week
Although she lives nearby, she said it is still hard for her to navigate the roadway and it is frightening for her and her grandchildren when cars pass so closely by them.
Williams said she would gladly welcome a sidewalk in the neighborhood.
"It would be a lot better because the grass is so hard to push through," she said.
Williams also said she is limited to shopping at only a few stores in the Paul Maillard area because she does not have a car and that she would like to see public transportation made available to parish residents.
"We need some buses and transportation. It’s hard for people to get anywhere and we need something to take us places," Williams said. "The other stores are so far down on Highway 90."
Marousek said the planning grant will allow for the assessment of transportation needs, such as those expressed by Williams, in addition to many other needs.
"It’s money that gives the local government the ability to really step back and think holistically about an area and look at your infrastructure needs, your economic needs, your social needs, housing needs, transportation needs – what you need to do to bring the community from where it is today to where you envision it being in the future," she said.
Already along the road are numerous developments that Marousek thinks provide a backbone for more robust development in the area.
"There is a lot of government infrastructure in terms of non-profits and government agencies that are already there along Paul Maillard," she said. "What’s their investment in the corridor?"
The parish also hopes to create added value to communities and neighborhoods by developing safe and walkable neighborhoods connected to each other.
health care corridor
The most recent development in the area is a new emergency room opened at St. Charles Parish Hospital last year.
Martinez sees the new hospital addition as part of a larger trend in the area.
"I kind of consider Paul Maillard the healthcare corridor of the parish. We have the hospital, one of the parish’s nursing homes, a rehab hospital, a community health center and several pharmacies," he said. "I tried to estimate one time how many cars drive along Paul Maillard for healthcare alone and it is quite a bit."
However, Martinez said the blighted properties do not attract people who might come to the area outside of healthcare purposes.
"The buildings that are on Paul Maillard – you don’t have to look too far to see some dilapidated ones and the shopping centers could use some sprucing up," he said. "We want to give it a new look so people will come to shop here."
Marousek said that the key to revitalizing Paul Maillard Road is St. Charles Parish Hospital because it puts jobs on the road and it draws a lot of traffic to the corridor.
"People go to hospitals for their own emergency and routine care and also to help friends and relatives get their health care needs met," she said. "Ideally, people could get a few other things done – conveniently – when they take that trip to the hospital.
"This project will help determine what other types of businesses people want to patronize while they’re in the area and what new commercial development regulations will enable those businesses to come to the area."
In addition to blight issues and empty storefronts, Martinez said there is a crime problem.
"There is little bit of a criminal element," he said. "We still have cars being broken into. We’ve had a few car thefts through the years."
St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said he supports the redevelopment effort because it can help reduce crime.
"Better streets, lighting, roads and sidewalks always help as a crime deterrent," he said. "It is correct that the area near the hospital, especially the Paul Frederick Road area, has experienced higher criminal activity that normal in St. Charles Parish. This has been for a long time and is the result of many factors, including substandard housing, etc. While there are many decent people that live in the area, a higher concentration of drug offenders has inhabited the area for decades. Again, many of these offenders have been arrested over and over for years."
Martinez said that cleaning up Paul Maillard will attract more businesses.
"There are several shopping centers along there that would attract more businesses if they were fixed up," he said. "I think it could be a nice commercial stretch that would attract people. I think it would also raise property values there."
In the meantime, Martinez said the dilapidated condition of many homes and buildings along the road has even affected the hospital’s ability to attract employees.
"One time I was trying to get a physician to come to St. Charles Parish and he made the comment to me that, ‘I appreciate what you are trying to do with the hospital, but you’ll never be able to do much if you don’t fix Paul Maillard.’" he said.
Community excited about change
In early talks with community residents, Planning and Zoning Department officials said area property owners are excited about the project.
Marny Stein, development review planner, said she recently began telling those in the area about the project.
"We went down the corridor just a few weeks ago to remind everybody that we are getting started and the response has been, ‘When are you getting started? Let’s go!’" Stein said.
Further engagement with the community is the project committee’s biggest goal right now.
"There are going to be some door-to-door surveys and Marny and I are available for any community meeting they might want us to come to – church groups, rotary club or whatever. We are happy to come talk to the community directly about this project," Marousek said. "We think it is very important. In the end it’s going to be a really great thing for that corridor and that community."
After the redevelopment planning for the Paul Maillard corridor wraps up and implementation of the plan begins, parish officials are anticipating future redevelopment efforts in other parts of the parish.
Buddy Boe, chief administrative officer for the parish, said the Paul Maillard project is likely to be the first of many the parish looks into.
Future redevelopment projects are already being considered for Apple Street in Norco and Almedia Road and St. Rose Avenue in St. Rose.