Al Copeland statue plans on ‘ back burner’ son says

A life-sized likeness of fried-chicken king Al Copeland, smiling as he offers up a box of drumsticks while standing astride a pair of speed boats, may one day greet visitors to Lafreniere Park.

But, for the moment at least, plans for Copeland’s grand memorial statue have been taken out of the fryer and are waiting beneath the heat lamps, while workers move ahead on a new stage funded by his son.

Al Copeland Jr. personally took helm to drive in the first piling of a stage, eagerly sought by park supporters, that will be dedicated to his father.

Tying the project to the cancer that took his father’s life in 2008, Copeland also used the occasion to donate $50,000 to the Louisiana State University Health Science Center New Orleans and pledged an annual event to raise more for research.

Plans for the stage had included a memorial garden dedicated to Copeland’s father, who founded Popeyes, among other ventures, and earned a reputation for his flamboyant lifestyle. But that proposal, and the statue that would have been at its center, are now “on the back burner,” Al Copeland Jr. said.

For now, the Al Copeland Concert Meadow will feature a 40-by-50-foot stage, large enough to meet the requirements of many national acts, that is expected to cost between $130,000 to $150,000.

“This is something the park has needed for a long time,” said Jefferson Parish Councilman Ben Zahn, who represents the area and was key in the negotiations with Copeland.

Copeland on Friday stressed the memorial’s connection to fighting cancer.

Officials noted that the family’s foundation has now donated about $350,000 directly to research and a total of three times that much has been raised through its efforts.

The stage itself, expected to be completed in three months, is expected to save the park and the parish money by allowing it to host musical acts without shelling out for a rental. Putting on the six-week long Lafreniere Live! series, for example, cost $30,000, Zahn said.

While securing funding for the stage has been the focus of many park supporters, it’s the plans for a memorial to the elder Copeland that have garnered the most attention.

An original proposal sketched by Blaine Kern Jr., whose family has never been accused of staid or reserved design, would have enshrined the statue in a Roman-inspired circle of columns.

The grandiose design was widely panned.

A later revision by the original master planner for the park toned down the design, replacing the columns with bricks and landscaping that fit the original plan for that section of Lafreniere.

But concerns about such details as the height and color of the statue, convinced those involved in the project to move forward with the relatively simple process of building a stage while they hash out the aesthetic details.

“The serenity gardens are always welcome,” Zahn said, referring to the official designation for the role the memorial would fill. “I don’t know if that will be with Mr. Copeland or with someone else.”