Lafayette remains on a cool trajectory, but will our progress be retarded by agents of regression? Photos by Robin May
OK, OK, we’re drama queens at 551 Jefferson St. The sky isn’t falling. The angry horde of middle-aged, creaky-backed buzzkills who glower and wave the Constitution hasn’t taken over our fair city. Lafayette remains a progressive community — a “Cool Town” that attracts creative people and traffics in their technological innovation and their cultural products. A vibrant, bustling parish awash in festivals, art galleries, music venues and some of the best restaurants anywhere. A hopeful city.
But we did want to get your attention because there are forces at play in our community that threaten to arrest our development, forces that believe public-private partnerships and government nurturing and underwriting our cultural economy are somehow anti-American. Forces that believe tax revenue should only fund roads, drainage and public safety.
Why does this element have a relatively strong foothold in our otherwise progressive parish? Maybe it doesn’t. Certainly Lafayette has been a center-right community, politically speaking, for a couple of decades. But our Republicans, most of them anyway, are pretty cool. They occupy a large swath of our political middle that includes the center left, and that wide center gets it.
Our guess is technology, the Internet especially, amplifies a relatively few voices, giving them an intensity and urgency they wouldn’t otherwise have. They’re good at mobilizing, demonstrating a strength in numbers at council meetings. But they don’t reflect Lafayette overall. They know it. We know it. They’re more or less a manifestation of having a black Democrat in the White House, but national issues have little resonance at City Hall.
The topic was on a lot of lips last week at the Building Communities Conference hosted by the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce — is there a more mainstream conservative entity than a chamber of commerce? — where they who move and shake our fair city shared a consensus among themselves: the muttering regressives must be countered with an equal show of force — Democrats, Republicans, independents who recognize that our community, through the concerted efforts of local government agencies and Lafayette’s entrepreneurs, can help keep Lafayette on a cool trajectory.
Yet in the near term we probably shouldn’t anticipate any bold new initiatives coming out of our City-Parish Council, at least not for the remainder of this year as tea-quaffing councilmen sit in the chairman’s and vice chairman’s seats. What we’ve seen instead from the council is regression and undoing — anti-empiricism borne on the wacky wings of LUS “smart meter” opt outs and ordinances to end LCG’s contract with RedFlex. (Electronic traffic enforcement may not be cool, but the data prove it makes our streets safer.) We see it in their conspiracy theories about the comprehensive master plan being a plot by the United Nations.
While we maintain that Lafayette is the coolest city in Louisiana not named New Orleans, we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels, many though they’ve been in recent months. Other cities have taken a page from our playbook, Shreveport especially, where it’s been proven — once and forever, one would think — that government investment can be a catalyst for cool. Shreveport wouldn’t have a reinvigorated downtown cultural district or an Oscar-winning film industry without underwriting by city government, just as downtown Lafayette probably wouldn’t be the district it is today without a little government subsidy known as StreetScape and, before that, a Legislature-sanctioned, taxpayer-funded Downtown Development Authority.
So what to do about these joyless patriots waving their signs and yammering their blunt angritudes, clogging the atmosphere with a miasma of cough medicine vapors and retrograde ideas? Let’s just wait them out. They’re an aging herd.
In the meantime, following is some Lafayette stuff happening right now that we think is pretty darn cool. — Walter Pierce
About The Cover
Cool Town cover artist Herb Roe is a Lafayette painter well known for working alongside muralist Robert Dafford on more than 200 projects across the nation, notably a few of the downtown murals for which Dafford is famed.
Roe’s style of art is self-described as “classical realism,” which involves a detailed painting as a base for the piece topped with layers upon layers of colored and wet glazes. Taking his cue from the notion that our Cool Town could be under attack, Roe, also the author of graphic novel Black Sun, raced to the parapets with inspiration from iconic illustrators Norman Rockwell and Frank Frazetta to bring varying methods of light and shades of blue to this year’s Cool Town portrayal.
When The Ind approached Roe about the project, he was on board from the jump, offering suggestions for our mischievously malevolent cover visage and working with staff members to refine the image over a week. We can only imagine how many hours the artist poured into the project with just a week to complete it in a time-intensive medium. Hats off.
“This one isn’t so much about Lafayette as a cool town,” Roe explains. “It’s about forces that could stop it from becoming as cool as it could be, so the image represents a generic Tea Party person ripping the Acadiana flag.”
If you’ve grown tired of the old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child,” you’re not alone. Lafayette Parish School System Superintendent Pat Cooper says he, too, hears the phrase all too often.
Ever since taking over the Lafayette Parish School system full-time Feb. 1, Cooper has been focused not on the village, but on “changing the way we do business in the village.” And his business model for the village, a proven method for turning around poor-performing, high-poverty schools, has prompted an extraordinary enthusiasm among school board members, students and community stakeholders, a dynamism that lay largely dormant before civic groups and community leaders coalesced two years ago to improve public education in Lafayette Parish.
Our district’s academic growth has been anchored as north Lafayette’s failing schools struggle to bridge the performance gap, leaving us consistently ranked among the middle of the pack in a state that’s near the bottom of the education performance scale. Lafayette Parish’s average-at-best school system has been a huge hurdle on Lafayette’s track to cool.
But within days of taking over LPSS full-time, Cooper already had an educational “SWAT team” in place for Northside High, redirecting $2.1 million to overhaul the district’s poorest performing high school. Two months into the job, Cooper has 10 task forces working to establish early learning centers and coordinated school health programs, two key centerpieces to Cooper’s turnaround model.
With 22 years of experience as a top education administrator, a reputation for strong community outreach and a straightforward approach to ending the “social club” plaguing our district’s progress, Cooper is answering the prayers of countless stakeholders who sought out — and received — one of the most qualified superintendents to lead Lafayette Parish public schools. — Heather Miller
| Jerrod Olivier (from left),
John Maloney and Jon Langlinais
Bicycling enthusiasts have been steadily growing in number over the past few years, but never before has the local movement to make bicycles a viable form of transportation pedaled so far toward the “full advocacy and awareness” of a bicycle culture that continues to blossom in our cool town.
Jon Langlinais, a rickshaw company owner and bicycling advocate in Lafayette, says the push for a more bike-friendly city began around 2008 when Lafayette started a local chapter of Critical Mass, a worldwide cycling event in which cyclists gather en masse for a monthly ride to promote bicycling.
The advocacy branch of the group takes place through its nonprofit, BikeLafayette (www.bikelafayette.org), which stems from years of discussion about the state of bicycling in the Hub City — with little action on how to improve it.
“We all kept talking about how things should be different and somebody should do something. Nobody was holding the city accountable for building roads that are retarded when it comes to bicycle safety and pedestrian infrastructure,” says Langlinais, a founding member of BikeLafayette. “We started getting together once a month and talking about what we think needs to happen in town. There’s been inadequate planning in this city for bicycle safety, but they’re trying to make it better now. They’re not ignoring us anymore.”
With a following of 550-plus people on Facebook, BikeLafayette has used its website calendar and social networking to organize numerous cycling events for the greater good, including Sunday Mass charity rides, a press conference with local officials to stress bicycle safety, and the Bike Corral at Downtown Alive!, or as Langlinais describes it, “valet parking for bicycles.”
“Our events are a great place to meet fellow bicyclists, to say, ‘Hey, you’re not alone,’ and to promote a safe, alternative means of transportation,” Langlinais says. — HM
The youngest serving member of the Louisiana House, state Rep. Stephen Ortego dove head-first into the political arena this year when he led the Acadiana delegation’s charge to save University Medical Center from some of the most devastating budget cuts to ever come down from the state.
The Carencro Democrat secured a 10-point win in November over St. Landry Parish President Don Menard in Ortego’s second run for the District 39 state rep seat, one of the biggest upsets of the 2011 local election cycle.
The freshman lawmaker has since filed a dozen bills for his first session, including a much-needed initiative to create a pilot partnership between the Lafayette Parish School System and UMC to bring school-based health and wellness programs to Lafayette Parish public schools.
But at 27 years old, Ortego has undoubtedly been shooting for the stars since long before filing his first piece of legislation, as evidenced by the few months he spent helping to rebuild houses in New Orleans’ lower 9th Ward as an intern for Brad Pitt’s Make It Right Foundation. Using the skills he learned under elite architects employing the highest environmental standards in home design, the Tulane architecture graduate came home in 2007 to introduce green living space to both his hometown of Carencro and the heart of Lafayette.
As a freshman lawmaker, he’s also introducing his environmentally fresh ideas to the state law books. House Bill 803, filed by Ortego, would require that any maintenance, renovations or new construction of public buildings use “paints, wood finishes, floor coatings, sealers, shellacs, stains, carpeting, and adhesives which are determined to have low volatile organic compound.”
Ortego has several notable accomplishments under his young, eco-friendly tool belt, but if history is any indicator of his future, there’s likely much more to come: U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and former U.S. Rep. Chris John were elected to the Louisiana Legislature before their 30th birthday. — HM
As Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission Executive Director Gerald Breaux readies for retirement at the end of June, Acadiana is bracing itself for the loss of a “true ambassador for Lafayette and Acadiana.”
“In his travels, Gerald tirelessly spread his passion and love for our culture, way of life and the things that make this region unique,” says Lafayette Economic Development Executive Director Gregg Gothreaux. “He has forged strong relationships with travel writers across the globe who in turn are equally as passionate in writing about their adventures in South Louisiana. Gerald understands the role of the hospitality industry in Lafayette’s overall economic development strategy. He is always willing to be a part of the conversation and to contribute his expertise and manpower to community projects.”
Speaking of manpower, Lafayette Hilton General Manager Jimmy Thackston notes that Breaux, in his nearly 31 years on the job, has been able to compile his lengthy list of accomplishments with a smaller staff than other tourism agencies that are similar in size and tax revenues.
“The way the tax revenues have grown and the way hotel rooms have grown in our market, it’s all because people are making Lafayette a destination, and that’s a representation of what his office is doing,” Thackston says. “All the awards we’ve won, Southern Living, Rand McNally, all the promotion they’ve done, it’s all been under his leadership.”
The LCVC board has selected five finalists in choosing Breaux’s replacement: Renee Areng, Ben Berthelot, Susan Holliday, Mark Mouton and Dave Domingue. Whoever the next director turns out to be, Gothreaux stresses that it must be someone with “a passion for the community and the ability and willingness to be a community leader.”
“He’s always embraced us, and we’ve all realized that it takes everybody supporting each other. We all benefit from people staying in the area,” says St. Landry Parish Tourism Commission Director Celeste Gomez. “Most recently with our opportunities with BP funding, we were able to get the most bang for our buck by utilizing a lot of the resources that he’s developed over the years, sales missions, things like that, where we all were able to participate. He’s been a mentor to a lot of us, especially the surrounding parishes.”— HM
When UL Lafayette communication/broadcasting professor William Davie first arrived in South Louisiana to teach at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, he remembers one day asking a fellow professor what station was playing on the radio.
“KRVS,” the professor told Davie. “You can’t beat it for the blues.”
After a brief pause, the professor added, “Also Cajun and zydeco, it’s the best.”
As a former news director at an NPR affiliate radio station in College Station, Texas, it didn’t take long for Davie to confirm his colleague’s claim.
“I think that is the way a lot of people feel about KRVS,” says Davie.
UL’s public radio station and Lafayette’s only NPR affiliate sends a most diverse set of soundwaves to the thousands of South Louisianans who tune in, some for news, some for weekend zydeco and Cajun music — and others for African beats and blues that can’t be found when switching the dial to any other station.
“KRVS in my view has managed to achieve a high level of quality in programming while satisfying some rather unique audience groups — from fans of the blues to zydeco, from classical aficionados to jazz junkies — 88.7 FM has been a trusted source and beacon of musical delights,” Davie says.
But Lafayette’s trusted cultural broadcasting staple is losing an institution with the retirement of Dave Spizale, the longtime general manager of KRVS who’s played an integral role in the radio station’s award-winning programming, such as the UL student-driven news segment Louisiana Focus and the station’s continued dedication to live music venues like Festival International.
“NPR radio stations typically will serve the radio needs for the educated publics in their communities, but KRVS-FM has fulfilled a much larger role in Lafayette by serving the cultural, informational and educational needs of a significant and diverse cross-section of Acadiana,” Davie says. “I think Dave Spizale deserves a large measure of credit for the fact that KRVS-FM has had a leadership position in creating a culture of broadcast excellence for our community. Louisiana Focus participants have several times won the coveted Louisiana Association of Broadcasters scholarship. I think all of this is due in large measure to Dave Spizale, who has insisted on quality, and always taken the pains necessary to achieve excellence in broadcasting. I believe the cultural needs of Lafayette and the surrounding parishes have been beneficiaries of his quality controls.”
When hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the region in 2005, KRVS stepped in and served as a base for major news network reporters covering the aftermath. Davie also notes that Spizale and his KRVS staffers were a prime source for information — both online and on the air — in the weeks and months following the BP oil spill.
“It is not too much to boast that KRVS-FM is the one true radio voice of Acadiana,” Davie says. — HM
|Tutwiler and Stubbs|
Former Independent staffers Mary Tutwiler and Nathan Stubbs weren’t the first to offer a farm-to-table dining experience in Lafayette, but couple the fresh, locally grown ingredients with an informal atmosphere, outdoor seating — and ramen noodle cook-offs — and the Saint Street Inn will forever scream “cool” in our book.
Nestled near the corner of St. Mary Boulevard and Brook Avenue in the former home of Bonnie Bell’s Bistro, Saint Street Inn opened a little more than six months ago with a mission of offering “fine food stripped of all the pretension that goes with getting good food.”
“We wanted a place that supports local agriculture, fresh seafood, fresh produce and local, organic meats,” Stubbs says. “We wanted to use those sources we had, especially with Mary being a food writer. But we wanted a casual place.”
The neighborhood eatery has quickly established the cozy, tasty kind of reputation that Tutwiler and Stubbs envisioned, a dining experience that’s often enhanced by special events including live music and a variety of cook-offs that invite outside chefs to come in and heat things up.
“We wanted this to be a place for foodies, cooks and culinary types. We always wanted to bring in other accomplished cooks,” Stubbs says. “But the events themselves kind of grew organically after we opened.”
Saint Street Inn’s menu is seasonal, though Stubbs notes that the lunch menu “has been pretty stable.” Dinner is served Thursday through Saturday, with Thursday’s menu offering a more laid-back variety of hand-made pizzas and happy hour specials. The dinner menu changes about every six weeks.
“It’s whatever we’re playing around with at the time,” Stubbs explains. “We like to keep it interesting — for our customers and for us.” — HM
The Freetown/Port Rico neighborhoods adjacent to downtown are steadily becoming known as a haven for artistic types of all sorts. Susan David decided to further the reputation by opening up Freetown Studios on 421 E. Convent, located in an old warehouse just a few blocks down from Blue Moon Saloon. David functions as Freetown Studios’ sole founder and executive director. Her dream of opening a space for artists to work, teach and learn began in 2009, and two years later she received her nonprofit status. Now Freetown Studios has a board with three members and is in the process of adding two more.
“We want to provide emerging and established artists with workspace,” says David. “I feel like this is a blank canvas and want you to come and paint on it, then we’ll wipe it all away. I want it to be a public forum for artists to dream bigger.”
David studied painting and printmaking at UL and thought it would be marvelous if there were a place outside the university with the same resources. Last year Freetown Studios received three of the five grants David applied for, which allowed her to outfit the space with equipment and furniture to make prints and other art. The space is 4,000 square feet with two small private studios within for rent by the hour, week or month for artists to either create or teach. David herself teaches printmaking there with plans to expand classes.
“Lafayette really wants to support this. It’s allowed us to create programming for the 2011-12 year,” she says. David, a Freetown resident herself, saw this space sitting open and makes the point that the “warehouse area could bloom into a really interesting district. I see this area becoming a really cool, hip area.”
— Anna Purdy
A Fighting Chance
Behind the controversial Joie de Vivre development, downtown’s Fightingville neighborhood stages a quiet comeback. By Dominick Cross
If there’s a common characteristic shared by residents and business owners who live and work in the downtown Lafayette area known as Fightingville, it would be vision.
Another universal trait they share is their love for all things downtown, especially the convenience of being able to walk to work or play and back home again.
Oh, and one more thing they have in common is that they are not afraid. They’re careful and aware to be sure, but fear is not in their vocabulary.
So, in a way, you can consider these people who are up to their ideals in the revitalization of areas that border downtown as pioneers of progress.
Jillian Johnson stands in a picket-fenced yard on the corner of Madison and Olivier streets where two dogs frolic. Behind her are peach, fig and Satsuma trees, blueberries, blackberries, herbs and a garden.
“We’re getting into the slow food movement,” Johnson says of herself and fiancée Jason Brown, adding that they have a couple of chickens on hand, too. “For the most part, I’m pretty excited where it’s headed.”
Fruit, vegetables and chickens within walking distance of downtown?
“There’s so many reasons to be downtown,” says the six-year resident of Fightingville. “The houses have pretty decent sized yards so you can do a lot in the yard and be outside and feel like you’re more or less in a community.
“There’s more diversity and the proximity to downtown is fantastic,” she says. Johnson and her brother, who lives just around the corner, own Parish Ink, an Acadiana-themed T-shirt and accessory shop on Jefferson Street in downtown. “We can basically walk to work,” she says. “I can walk to get my hair cut. I can walk to the bank. I can walk to the post office. I can walk to do everything but buy groceries here.”
Johnson bought her home in Fightingville because of the type of architecture, its price and the allure of a fixer-upper. And while there’s a trade-off with time and money spent renovating, the house notes do remain the same.
“Also, it was very affordable and I’m the kind of person who doesn’t mind doing work,” she says. “Buying an older house like this allows you really to put your own personality into it. That whole experience has been great.”
Johnson, president of Townfolk (a nonprofit organization that assists neighbors with “things that are specifically relevant to someone’s experience in this particular community,” such as reporting an inoperable streetlight, high grass, etc.), says it’s “really great to be a part of a community like this. And to see so much revitalization going on, to see the people’s homes not lost and to see the rise of home ownership.”
However, she believes at one time the area was more or less abandoned by absentee landlords just trying to make a buck by collecting rent and disregarding repairs.
“I think this neighborhood has been kind of a haven for slumlords to buy up property and not do anything to it and rent it at a low rate,” Johnson says. “That essentially holds the citizens of this community hostage in a way.”
But that appears to be changing these days.
“So it’s good to see people are taking more of an initiative to pick the places up, spending time outdoors.”
And as the revitalization continues, Johnson doesn’t want to see people priced out of their homes, either.
“We obviously don’t see gentrification as a positive thing in this neighborhood. We want there to be more services for the residents that are here,” she says. “The key will be ultimately getting rental property owners involved, investing a little bit more in the community.
“If someone owns their home here, they probably own it completely,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot of rental property still, but not as much as you’d think. But the rental property owners, I don’t think they can reasonably increase the rent until they start actually investing in their homes.”
It’s no secret that Fightingville has some at-riskiness to it, but that doesn’t make it a dangerous place to live, especially with Townfolk taking hold.
“We understand that there will be illegal things going on,” she says. “Illegal things are going on in every neighborhood. Our idea is to make the community stronger.”
Catty-corner to Johnson’s house is a new home called the Event House, a project of students from the UL Lafayette’s Architecture and Design program. But there’s more to it than its cool look and Green philosophy.
“The idea was to go into a neighborhood and purchase a lot in a neighborhood surrounding downtown, kind of the urban core, that was in need of revitalization,” says Geoff Gjertson, associate professor of architecture at UL. “And see if we could use some of the strategies from BeauSoleil [the BeauSoleil Louisiana Solar Home, an environmentally sustainable house designed and built by the school’s students], but build an affordable house for that neighborhood that would help with the revitalization process.”
Arceneaux Group Construction, owned by former UL architecture student Jeremy Arceneaux, “who wanted to help in the education of the students,” says Gjertson, built the house.
Architecture students Stephanie Bordelon, Michael Reid and Graham Reid designed the Event House using the BeauSoleil house as a model.
“The majority of the information we got from the BeauSoleil home was how to build it more on the energy-efficient side of the concept,” says Bordelon. “Not so much ‘green’ in the fact it’s got solar panels or anything like that, but positioning it, how the light would hit it, how the wind would come through it so that it was more energy efficient in a passive way.
“It’s not all mechanical that makes it energy efficient; it’s the house itself that makes it energy efficient,” she says. “It’s the way it’s put together, the structure of it being not traditional construction.”
Like 24 on-center beams instead of 16, as well as 2-by-6s on the exterior instead of 2-by-4s to allow more insulation to be blown into the walls and corners “so there’s less seepage into the house, so there’s less seepage out of the house,” Bordelon says. “Kind of like an envelope of everything happening around it.”
In addition, there’s bamboo flooring, covered, composite porches, energy efficient appliances, rubber-backed moisture-bearing behind the outdoor steel siding, and double-pane windows.
And all that’s fine with Lake Charles native Kirk Warner, a helicopter mechanic with Arrow Aviation who’s itching to move into the Event House from New Iberia.
“Lafayette has a lot going on,” says Warner. “It’s an hour trip just to come here and go home without doing anything. So being right here close to downtown and the university — I’ve always thought it would be nice to take some of the classes like photography or tennis, just meet different people and participate in some of that; I feel real lucky to live in a place like this,” he says. “There’s the [downtown] art scene. And Festival [International] is right there.”
Warner says he initially wanted to live near downtown Lafayette but found a few areas somewhat unsettling. As time went on and revitalization began to take hold — not to mention the low interest rates — he returned with a price range in mind to find a place to live.
“I stumbled on this one and thought, ‘Wow. It’s a pretty cool house.’ I knew it was close to downtown, but I didn’t know what the neighborhood was like,” Warner says. He’s since checked out his new neighborhood and is cool with it.
“I never thought I’d be able to afford to live in something designed by architects,” he says. “It’s a unique house that’s very livable and low maintenance and hopefully low utility bills.”
Just three blocks north from this corner of Madison and Olivier, you may have seen a couple of new chicks hanging out at the home of Marcus Descant, who, by the way, also has worms.
“We’re still doing chickens,” says Descant, known for his heirloom hens and their delicious eggs. “I’ve got some hatching Saturday. I’m adding to that, I have worm composting over here. So it’s kind of like a worm farm.”
Descant says the worms are turning the coffee grounds from Carpe Diem! Gelato-Espresso Bar on Jefferson Street it into organic fertilizer.
“The worms chew them up and turn them into worm castings [worm manure],” he says. “So, it’s a way to completely organically deal with waste. On my end, I make the worms available for people so they can start composting out of their kitchen.”
A greenhouse in Descant’s urban backyard produces southern-grown heirloom vegetables able to handle South Louisiana’s heat and humidity.
“And also I’m going to work on some things from other countries,” Descant says. “This fall, I’m going to produce a couple Russian-variety of tomatoes to see if we can’t stretch the tomato-growing season here, use some things that are cold tolerant.”
And there’s a reason he does these environmentally-sound activities.
“My big push is to help people in their homes to be able to grow their own food,” he says. “It’s like an organic gardening supply.”
For now, Descant sets up at farmers’ markets and has gardening classes at his home on Saturdays. He also does consulting related to the organic lifestyle.
“I go to people’s homes and talk to them about design and come up with a plan so they can grow as much as possible in a really small space,” sharing what he says it took him five years to learn. “A lot of aspects of design will help you out, you know, mixing plant families. When we think of gardens we see a row of just one thing. We’ll see tons of corn in one spot.”
Descant, who operates under the business moniker The Urban Naturalist, says his gardens look a little different with, say, corn, squash and beans grouped in the same place. “Usually a least three varieties grow in the same bed,” he says. “Typically, what I’ll use is different sized plants and shapes. You’ll want something tall like corn. You’ll want a ground cover like squash or watermelon. And then you can also integrate a climber like beans.”
You can also plant zucchini and a perennial ground cover like strawberries. It’s called canopy gardening and it helps to not only put more food on your table, but keeps the hassle of weeding to an absolute minimum, if at all. “Instead of pulling weeds, you’re picking strawberries and squash,” Descant says. “It’s so much better.”
Isolationism in the garden, the act of planting this here and that there, is an invitation to pests, who unlike humans aren’t omnivorous. While we may lump fruits and veggies in one edible category, bugs don’t see it that way, according to Descant.
“They’re looking for one thing. Most of these pests will target one fruit or vegetable. If you start mixing them, well, then you start to scramble,” he says. “And it makes it much harder for them to find where they should lay the eggs, where they should be.”
And that’s a nice segue to the bait and switch approach to urban crop growing called trap crops “that will draw those bugs out of the garden,” says Descant. “So, it’s kind of a different take on gardening from what our grandparents were doing.
“I think it’s also a little more ornamental, too,” he says. “I encourage people to plant flowers around their gardens. It’s good for bringing in beneficial insects, also attracting pollinators so that you get a better pollination rate. So, it’s just a lot of things that you don’t think of when you think of a typical row-crop garden.”
Not to mention a healthy, vibrant organic garden neighborhood growing just a few blocks from a downtown area.
Backtrack down Madison two blocks and take a few easterly steps on Simcoe, there’s The Alamo and Retromodern retail and Beyond Flowers. Owning and running the three-prong business venture are Ty Hanes and Kenneth Delavergne.
Retromodern and Beyond Flowers are in the same building, the former a vintage, mid-century eclectic furniture resale and consignment store. Beyond Flowers, formerly on Jefferson Street, is in its 12th year of business. And the idea for the gallery actually was based on what happened at the flower shop when it was downtown.
“Honestly, what Beyond Flowers was on Jefferson Street, how I always had artists in there and they’d come in and setup their easels, or their computers and just hang out and talk and cut up, it’s the same thing but on a larger scale,” says Hanes.
The Alamo is next door and is so named because it looks like the ill-fated Texas mission with its stepped façade, that is if you squint just so. It has nine studios and a gallery and is home to graphic artists, an architect, a tax office and studio, fashion designer, a painter and until recently a folk artist.
“We offer spaces for artists in Lafayette to come and have free rein to do what they want and have a canvas to show their work and have a gallery and have openings and things like that,” Hanes says. “They have 24-hour access and kind of commune. We’re always bouncing ideas off of each other. They come over and visit. I go and visit them.”
And like days of old, Hanes and Delavergne live above Retromodern/Beyond Flowers. So not only do they walk downstairs to work, they walk downtown for, well, downtown.
“I love, love, love, love living in downtown Lafayette. Love it,” says Hanes. “I walk to downtown. I walk from downtown. I walk to Dwyer’s on Sunday for breakfast. We’ll walk up and down Jefferson Street just for the hell of it.
“Friday and Saturday nights you know I’m going to be there,” he says, which can mean up until closing time, too. “I don’t mind walking home. Walk the well-lit streets and don’t be an idiot.”
Hanes says the neighborhood is in the midst of revitalization, which means people are fixing and upgrading their homes and bringing in new businesses with them. Kind of what Hanes and Delavergne did about seven years ago.
“I believed in this area enough to buy a house here and move my business here all at the same time,” says Hanes, who, like Johnson, believes the area’s comeback is up to those who live, own and work here.
And it all comes down to one word: Maintenance. That means keeping weeds, litter and loiterers from congregating. It means removing bars and graffiti from buildings and just as important, making repairs quickly.
“Downtown maintenance, you have to do that,” says Hanes. “I think it’s important. It’s all in pride of ownership. It’s up to business owners to maintain their property and make it look respectable.
“You have to have pride of ownership. That’s what changes a neighborhood,” he says, adding that some landlords appear to have given up on the area. “And that’s so silly because it’s two blocks from downtown. It’s fantastic. I can see our skyline from our front yard. I love that. It’s what Lafayette has to offer.”
|Future site of Lofts at Olivier|
The historic Lafayette Wholesale Grocery building, about a block east and one long block south at 114 Olivier St., is expected to begin its conversion from warehouse into 15 loft apartments for artists by October. Artists should be able to move in around this time next year.
John Arceneaux, chairman of the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority that acquired the property from the Acadiana Outreach Center, says the lofts are a plus on several fronts.
“I think having the quite beautiful building that’s been vacant for a long time restored and put into commerce as an artist community where artists will be able to live and work will revitalize that section of the neighborhood,” Arceneaux says. “Arts are a vital part of Lafayette’s culture and helps with our culture and our tourism and adds to what’s interesting and cool about Lafayette.”
The former warehouse will have space for artists to work in and set up for “occasional gallery space” during ArtWalk and other events.
“To me, that’s the name of the game here — let the building be the star of the show; it really, really is important,” says Glenn Angelle of Angelle Architects, the firm working on the project. “When we design new buildings, you never really start with a blank sheet of paper because there are always influences, but this one’s got even less than a blank page than other projects.
“In a way it’s more challenging,” he says. “But in other ways it directs you and you can get to the meat of the matter rather quickly, not thinking about a lot of the things that you have to with a new building.”
At the same time there are other challenges when converting an old warehouse built without AC into an inhabited, pleasant, air conditioned building, properly wired for juice and technology and prepped for modern amenities — all the while respecting what was there in the first place.
And in the case of the former Lafayette Wholesale Grocery warehouse, there are the existing interior wood structure and brick walls to keep in mind during the process, as well as replacing damaged portions of the building.
“We’ll put back the same character and same type of structure that’s there,” says Angelle. “One of the things about these types of projects that we always try to do is not fool people with a timeline of construction that’s not discernible.
“Anything you put back into a building like this, you always want it to be sensitive to the building and you don’t want to fool somebody in a few years who might walk into the building and not be able to figure out what was original and what was new,” he says. “In other words, you’re not going to put weathered wood that might have looked the way one person might think that was built when the building was built.
“You want the building to tell a story correctly and that’s always a challenge,” Angelle says. “You have to come up with ways to make it sensitive to the old, but not replicate the old so that in the future the building tells the story.”
Upcoming events celebrate art, food, theater, music and more.
UL Wind Ensemble presents The End of the World
7:30 p.m. at Angelle Hall
Composer Michael Schelle was inspired by the prophecies of Nostradamus and the Mayan calendar for this piece, which makes its Louisiana debut.
Acadiana Repertory Theatre presents God of Carnage
8 p.m. (through Saturday, March 31) at Theatre 810 (810 Jefferson St. downtown)
Tickets: $10 for adults, $8 for students/seniors
Yasmina Reza’s 2009 Tony Award-winning play makes its Lafayette premiere.
William & Judith
7:30 p.m. (through March 31) at Acadiana Center for the Arts
Produced by theater company The Compound, this work by Lafayette playwright Cody Daigle imagines William Shakespeare with an equally talented sister.
The Vast Fried Wing Conspiracy
6 p.m. at Saint Street Inn
Info: 534-8112 or SaintStreetInn.com
Chefs Kyle Canella of Jolie’s and Andre Tremble square off in a buffalo wing cookoff.
The Spinner’s Web
7:30 p.m. at Cité des Arts
Tickets/info: 291-1122 or CiteDesArts.org
Get spun in a good yarn when storytellers Barry Ancelet, Mitchell Reed, Sally O. Donlon, Bill Matthews and master of ceremonies Jim Phillips offer The Spinner’s Web, a dinner theater event in celebration of the Louisiana bicentennial.
2nd Annual Holi Festival
11 a.m. at Girard Park
Also known as the Indian festival of colors, this family event is celebrated by splashing colors on each other.
Lafayette Concert Band presents “Spring, and Music is in the Air”
5 p.m. at Acadian Village
Fresh & Local
7 p.m. at Blue Moon Saloon
Tickets: $8 in advance, $10 at the door
This fashion show/fundraiser for Acadiana Food Circle will feature food by Saint Street Inn, Cochon, Great Harvest Bread Company and Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro; music by Miss Emily & The Collard Greens, The Pits, Zydeco Mike and The Moss Pickers.
10 a.m. at the Acadiana Symphony Conservatory, 412 Travis St., Oil Center
Local vendors will sell their wares as children participate in an Easter Egg Hunt.
Oil Center’s Open Air Antique & Arts Market
8 a.m.-noon at LGMC Medical Plaza, 427 Heymann Blvd.
Local dealers and artisans will have their wares on display.
13th Annual Dewey Balfa Cajun & Creole Heritage Week
Chicot State Park
Various locations in Lafayette
A project of the Innovation Division of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, INNOV8 comprises a festival of ideas celebrating Lafayette’s creative culture.
CES.2: The Power of Creativity
1-6 p.m. at the Acadiana Center for the Arts
Workshops are $10, $5 for students/seniors
Hosted by Creative Action, CES.2 comprises a series of workshops for artists, a keynote speech by Dr. Gerar Edizel and other activities.
Festival International de Louisiane
Opening reception 6-8 p.m. at the Acadiana Center for the Arts
The Southern Open is a juried art exhibition featuring works by artists in various media from five Southern states.