Lafayette may be on the verge of becoming a great city.
A controversial proposed land-swap deal that once divided this community and the university it has supported for more than a century could be taking a decided turn. Thanks to potential anonymous benefactors, a deal is in the works to transform the 100-acre UL Lafayette horse farm on Johnston Street into a world-class passive recreational park.
Officials directly involved in the project would not comment before press time late Monday night. UL President Joe Savoie declined comment, saying an announcement would likely be made later this week.
Details remained sketchy Monday, but sources familiar with the negotiations say the master plan calls for linking the park to both Girard Park and the planned University Common at UL’s Research Park property, making it the centerpiece or “central park” of Lafayette. It will rank among the five largest park developments in the parish, significantly increasing the amount of recreational acreage this community offers its residents.
The deal also involves Lafayette Consolidated Government and will catapult the standing and visibility of the 9-year-old Community Foundation of Acadiana.
The potential donors, who have requested that their identity not be revealed until all legal and legislative matters are firm and various board approvals are granted, plan to gift $5.7 million to the not-for-profit Community Foundation of Acadiana, which has committed to raise funds for development of the park and create an endowment fund for perpetual maintenance (there are numerous examples of community foundations across the country that own and operate parks). The $5.7 million gift (the recently appraised value of the horse farm) for purchase of the horse farm will be made to the Community Foundation after the matching funds are raised.
The Community Foundation and LCG are working through the details of an ongoing maintenance agreement of the grounds and facilities.
The deal requires various approvals. Before the legislative session, state Rep. Joel Robideaux prefiled a bill seeking legislative authority for the Board of Supervisors for the UL System to sell the property to the Community Foundation (the bill is expected to be heard by the Natural Resources and Environment Committee next week); LCG’s council will need to approve any agreement with the Community Foundation as well as a partial swap of the horse farm land for the 8-acre Youth Park that adjoins the campus behind the Johnston Street fire station (a small portion of the horse farm is needed by the city to construct an emergency access road from West Bayou Parkway); and the Community Foundation’s board will also have to approve its role.
UL will use proceeds from the sale to purchase additional land near campus and redevelop portions of the existing campus. In its “Open Letter to Authement: Kill the Deal,” (Dec. 7, 2005), The Independent Weekly suggested that valuable and easily developable property could be freed up with the relocation and modernization of the university’s cluttered maintenance facility that is separated from Youth Park by a coulee. It now appears that the university plans to do just that, along with exploring ways to cover the coulee to connect the maintenance acreage with Youth Park, the beautiful, rolling landscape that includes mature live oaks and is defined by a single-family residential community. The park is a key component of a smart growth or infill plan that will allow UL to create a mixed use development that will have apartments, retail and restaurants for the student body (don’t worry, the skate park isn’t going anywhere — at least not any time soon).
It’s unclear what additional properties the university hopes to acquire.
Preserving the acreage has been a mission for the community group Save the Horse Farm, which was founded by UL students and community activists in the wake of the suspect land-swap deal, and City-Parish President Joey Durel, who has long maintained that turning the horse farm into a jewel of a community park would be a dream come true for a city underserved by this kind of recreational facility. In mid-2006 Durel negotiated a verbal first right of refusal agreement with then-UL Lafayette President Ray Authement, securing for local government first dibs on the 100-acre horse farm property.
Perhaps more notably, since taking over as UL president last year, Savoie has maintained — in several interviews with this paper — a commitment for the university to be a full partner in projects that benefit the community as a whole. “That’s how I intend to operate,” he has said. “It is important to re-establish that relationship.”
This park project, if it comes to fruition, would be the first outward sign that he fully intends to fulfill that objective.
Sources also indicate that executing the master plan for connectivity, beautification and functionality of the park appears to be in the hands of landscape architects Douglas Hoerr and Peter Lindsay Schaudt of Chicago-based Hoerr Schaudt, which designs public and private landscapes throughout the country.
The Independent Weekly has learned that the landscape architects were in Lafayette in recent weeks to study the acreage in preparation for rolling out a plan for a comprehensive design. Their plan calls for the property to retain many of its existing natural qualities, incorporating features like walking trails, bike paths, and a tremendous amount of open, green space for relaxation. Buffers will be added to ensure privacy for residents in adjoining neighborhoods.
This particular horse farm deal has been in the works for several years. Sources tell The Independent Weekly that potential donors actually stepped forward during the controversial land-swap deal under Authement. The former university president had proposed a trade of the front portion of the horse farm acreage for Lafayette attorney Jimmy Davidson’s Girard Park Drive property.
After widespread community outcry and discrepancies in the values of the properties surfaced, Authement backed away from the deal.
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.