New Iberia, Louisiana
Louisiana | 2005 Great American Main Street Award® Winner | Posted: 5/9/2005
New Iberia (Pop. 33,000) is located on the Gulf of Mexico along the Bayou Teche in southern Louisiana. It has been has been a melting pot of diverse cultures since its founding by Spanish settlers in 1779. During the antebellum period, the town achieved importance as a port that delivered goods to New Orleans. Later the advent of the railroad and discovery of oil helped New Iberia prosper for decades. However, when the oil industry plummeted in the 1980s, so did downtown New Iberia; businesses departed or closed, leaving empty buildings behind.
The city built on early beautification efforts and worked diligently for New Iberia`s acceptance into the Louisiana Main Street Program. This effort sparked a new beginning toward the city’s unified downtown resurgence endeavors. Since 1994, New Iberia`s historic commercial district has gained 117 new businesses; 426 new jobs; over $19 million in private investment; and $3 public improvements.
The New Iberia Main Street program found creative ways to breathe new life into its historic commercial buildings. It intensively promoted the state façade grant program to encourage existing property owners to restore their storefronts. During the last 10 years, the value of rehabs and new construction has exceeded $13 million, including the restoration of the National Register-listed Evangeline Theater in the 1990s.
It also worked one-on-one with developers to encourage preservation projects. When a developer showed interest in a vacant historic department store but was deterred by its large interior space, the Main Street program convinced the city to subdivide the lot on which the building sat while allowing the developer to preserved the historic façade. Today the building is home to a dozen retail shops, two apartments, a townhouse, up-scale bar, and office space.
The local main street program identified that an ordinance prohibiting construction over a sidewalk was impeding upper-story development of many historic buildings with balconies. It resolved the problem by advocating for the reintroduction of a pro-balcony ordinance in 2000. Since then five historic buildings with balconies have been restored, creating 20 housing units and contributing the creation of a 24-hour downtown.
New Iberia effectively promotes its historic downtown through special events, such as the “Yuletide on the Bayou” and the "Gumbo Cook-off.” It creatively collaborates with Shadows-on-the-Teche, a National Trust property located in the historic district, by co-sponsoring “Terror on the Teche” Halloween activities, Civil War Reenactment and Art Walk that intersperses 30 artists in retail and restaurant spaces.
Downtown New Iberia has successfully re-invented itself as a nucleus of culture, commerce, and tourism that actively celebrates its historic heritage.
For more information contact:
New Iberia Main Street
457 East Main St., Room 404
New Iberia, LA 70560-3700