The repurposing of the former St. Rose de Lima Catholic Church property on Bayou Road has resulted in a new home for Southern Repertory Theatre as well as rental space for nonprofits and the Waldorf School.
Southern Rep, which has used the former St. Rose de Lima Church space in some way for the past two years, will have an inaugural ball Jan. 19 beginning at 4 p.m. with the ringing of the bells in the former church bell tower. Cocktails will follow from the new Sanctuary bar (constructed of materials from the confessional, Communion rail and other church elements), rotating entertainment and tours of the facility until 10 p.m.
“I wanted to have something that was definitely about dancing, music and dressing up,” said Aimée Hayes, Southern Rep Theatre’s producing artistic director. “It’s a chance for
us to show off Southern Rep to everyone and have a good time.”
“It will be a celebration of the vibrancy of Southern Rep and the city of New Orleans,” said Jaron Caldwell, Southern Rep’s director of marketing and public relations.
How project developed
Jonathan Leit, who is director of the New Orleans office of Alembic Community Development, gave a timeline of the project, beginning in 2009 when Hal Brown and other community members first identified St. Rose de Lima Parish site “as an important property that would be a hub for art, culture and entrepreneurship.”
Soon after, the Rose Community Development Corporation was established to flesh out the details and work on a long-term lease/purchase agreement with the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Brown became sick and died in 2013, but his widow Shawn Kennedy, now president of the Rose CDC board, kept the project afloat.
By 2014, a request for a development partner was issued, and Alembic Community Development was selected. In the summer of 2016, Alembic and Rose CDC bought three buildings on the church site from the Archdiocese of New Orleans – the 1915-built church, the 1925-built parish school that closed in 1978 at 2539 Columbus St. and a two-story building built in 1938 also on Columbus Street. The cost was $550,000. The two entities continue to co-own it as the Rose Collaborative (www.rosecollaborative.com).
“It’s a campus with organizations working across and with one another,” Leit said.
Site redevelopment began in earnest in the summer of 2017 when Rose and Alembic closed on $11.8 million in tax credits and public and private financial sources from the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority, the Louisiana State Office of Community Development and others.
Led by Ryan Goote General Contractor and Metro Studio architects, construction was finished in 2018, and the buildings were put into commerce.
Southern Rep is leasing the church. Starting in the 2019-20 school year, the nonprofit Waldorf School of New Orleans will occupy the 2539 Columbus St. building. The 10,500-square-foot 2533 Columbus St. building is shared workspace for such nonprofits as the business incubator run by Fund 17, the Louisiana Philharmonic, Kids Mart, Newcorp, Brothers Empowered to Teach and others.
Permanent theatre space
The 13,000-square-foot former St. Rose de Lima Church has given Southern Rep a permanent home, something it had lost since leaving Canal Place.
Upcoming productions include “The Wolves,” Jan. 9-Feb. 3; an original play premiere “Azul” by Christina Quintana; and “Flowers for Hallie,” celebrating of Mahalia Jackson written by and starring Troi Bechet. In September, Pamela Davis-Noland’s “Project Bayou Road,” a dramatization of people’s recorded experiences in the Bayou Road neighborhood, will debut.
“You’re going to get a variety of things, and they are all going to be excellently done,” Hayes said.
The new theater has three stages: the main Rose Theatre (approximately half of the former church’s space) with 130 seats, the Lagniappe stage that seats 60-70 and is home to post-show entertainment; and the Hal Brown Outdoor Community Stage, where free performances have been staged since 2017. For rehearsals, the Rose studio (named after the stained glass in the former church choir loft) is used.
Adding visual appeal to the space is a floor-to-ceiling mural by painter and muralist Langston Allston of Andre Cailloux – a Civil War black officer in the Union Army whose funeral service (the story goes) to be held at the all-white church as a nod to the end of slavery resulted in the “largest gathering of free and enslaved African Americans at that time” – that originally hung outside the church during renovations.
Hayes, who came on board during the theater’s Canal Place days, sees advantages of its current location.
“We’ve always wanted to be part of a community, to have a front door and neighbors,” Hayes said.
In the new space, Southern Rep not only offers live theater but a children’s story hour on the second Saturday of each month from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.; and a monthly Sunday brunch talk with food and entertainment (the next is Jan. 13, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.). Brunch is a component of Care for Creatives, an initiative with the New Orleans’ Musicians’ Clinic that presents classes and workshops to help artists practice well-being.
“We have artists coming together to share their experiences and do activities together,” Hayes said. “Now that we have a good idea of what works, we will be reaching out to the community on what they want. … Communities get stronger when they work together.”
Making community whole
Leit sees the Rose Collaborative as a contribution to the amazing culture and history of what is Bayou Road.
“The purpose was to redevelop these vacant buildings to contribute to what has been on Bayou Road for a long time,” mainly a gathering place for local families and individuals and to bring more people to see what the neighborhood has to offer, he said.
Christine Bordelon can be reached at email@example.com.
→ When: Jan. 19, 4-10 p.m.
→ Where: 2541 Bayou Road, New Orleans. Free for food and punch; $20 open bar.
→ Details: www.southernrep .com, 522-6545, for ticket/ sponsor information.
→ Care for Creatives, www. southernrep.com/Care-for- creatives; 356-2094.