It was almost seven years ago that The Independent broke the story about a suspect land swap involving UL's Horse Farm on Johnston Street. It seems like a lifetime.
With seven wise men voting in favor of the deal Tuesday — I'm pretty sure you can figure out which two councilmen voted against it — the vision to turn 100 acres of rolling beauty into a passive park crossed its final hurdle.
First conceived in October 2005 by the Save the Horse Farm group, which passionately fought a dubious deal that would have turned the Johnston Street acreage into a commercial development, the central park plan picked up steam within months when City-Parish President Joey Durel got behind the effort. The deal was all but sealed when community-minded Joe Savoie came in as university president in mid-2008.
"This is a much, much bigger transaction than just buying the horse farm, although that by itself is plenty big enough for what it’s going to do for our community," Durel told the council Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a win on many, many, many levels and something I think is very critical as we compete in this world today for jobs,” he continued. “It fits in with our comprehensive plan that we’re working on, and the university’s comprehensive plan.”
Lafayette Consolidated Government has already issued and sold $6 million in certificates of indebtedness to purchase the Horse Farm from the university. The funding mechanism was approved by the council last year. The deal is also a partial land swap, with LCG turning over Youth Park, located behind the Johnston Street fire station near UL's campus, to the university. The horse farm appraised for $6.61 million and Youth Park for $808,000. UL plans to use proceeds from the sale to expand its campus, quite possibly to make a down payment on old Lourdes campus.
The proposed ordinance requires that LCG develop the property as a passive park — no basketball, baseball or soccer fields — within 10 years or return it to UL. The Community Foundation is expected to play a key role in bringing the project to fruition, but the specifics of that role have not yet been defined and/or disclosed.
Read the ordinance up for final approval here.