Opelousas alderman vote to expand cultural district

The Board of Aldermen approved a resolution Tuesday expanding the boundaries of the cultural district to include the northern portion of the city limits.

City Tourism Director Melanie Lebouef said after the meeting that extending the existing cultural district could allow nonprofit entities and privately owned buildings 50 years or older to become eligible for state and federal tax credits for the costs of building renovations.

Lebouef said the Michel Prudhomme home, built in the 1790s, would become eligible under the expanded district boundaries as well as St. Landry Catholic Church, first built in the early 1800s, and Holy Ghost Catholic Church.

“We’ve received a lot of interest from St. Landry and the preservationist group associated with the Michel Prudhomme home. This allows them and other non-profits to take advantage of potential tax credits,” Lebouef said.

According to the resolution, which the board passed in a unanimous vote, cultural districts were created by a 2007 act of the state Legislature. The act authorized local governing authorities to create cultural districts as a means of creating community revitalization.

The Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and Office of Cultural Development established guidelines for the formation of cultural districts, according to the resolution.

Lebouef said the city’s initial cultural district, created in 2011, includes a 20-block portion of the city extending in nearly all directions from the central business area that includes the parish courthouse.

The initial idea for the cultural district was to use it to help promote Opelousas and area artists who sell items at the various festivals held in the city, Lebouef said.

“It (the cultural district) is another tool that was created in order to help bring activity to the downtown area of Opelousas,” Lebouef said. “Artists selling things inside the (cultural) district are not required to charge customers the state sales tax … it gives our artists a little help and stimulates interests in tourists who may want to purchase things,” Lebouef said.

Lebouef said Opelousas artist Robbie Sebastian noticed the increased sale of his artwork after the first cultural district was passed, eliminating the state sales tax.

Businesses within the original cultural district also have been able to take advantage of the state sales tax break, Lebouef said.

“One of our goals (in city tourism) is to revitalize the downtown area. There are many historic buildings in the business district and enhancing these can only help create more tourism,” Lebouef said.

She said the city’s business district has been primarily dormant for years, estimating that there are about 15 empty buildings within a two-block area of the courthouse square.

Lebouef pointed to the former Bordelon Motors car dealership building completed in 1911, which is located across from City Hall, where Tuesday’s meeting was held.

“That is a perfect example. It’s a good building that takes up a whole block. A tax renovation credit for that building might attract a tenant,” she said.