For most of us in Lafayette, downtown is a clearly defined area bounded by Johnston Street, University Avenue, Congress/Second streets and the railroad tracks. For the purposes of zoning and economic development, those boundaries are extended into surrounding neighborhoods, some of them compromised by crime and decay. But we know when we’re downtown, and it irks the hell out of many of the area’s boosters, Downtown Lafayette Unlimited not the least of them, when police attribute an armed robbery at the McKinley Street Strip or an assault on Chestnut Street across the railroad tracks to crimes “downtown.” Neither the tracks — a figurative if not literal boundary — nor the Strip are “downtown,” which has endured some bad press and attendant bad publicity in recent months.
“The downtown is such a landmark, and in people’s minds, when they say downtown, they have a picture of where that is,” says Cathy Webre, DLU executive director. “But there are all kinds of tribulations that can be caused by telling somebody that something happened in downtown when it’s really way over here — and most people actually think of downtown as being Jefferson Street, the Jefferson Street corridor.” DLU Associate Director Jody Nederveld jokes that she’s surprised the recent murder at Beaver Park wasn’t attributed to downtown. In fact, crime in downtown Lafayette has fallen over the last year, and the vast majority of it is garden-variety property crime like car burglaries cultivated by young people so eager to get to the Jefferson Street clubs they leave their car doors unlocked.
So while many in the media including, we must confess, ourselves have poured no small amount of ink into covering issues like crime, downtown Lafayette continues to quietly advance and prosper.
If you’re a newbie in Lafayette — a transplant in the last decade or so — you might assume our venerable downtown has always been this way. Nothing could be further from the truth. The cypress trees, brick-paved sidewalks and fleur-de-lis crosswalks along Jefferson Street are recent additions, part of a face lift not 15 years old that, while interrupted by the vagaries of budgetary prerogatives, will continue this year. Since StreetScape transformed downtown’s main and most recognizable artery in the late 1990s, roughly $140 million dollars in public and private investments have poured into the area.
Like downtowns across the country, ours was once the commercial hub of a small city, and it was the type of commerce that could feed and sustain surrounding neighborhoods: a grocery store was here, and a department store, hardware, a five and dime. But as commerce and people headed toward the suburbs and American car culture roared in, downtown Lafayette fell into a disrepair abetted by city fathers’ emphasis on growing the city outward, on new development, on progress. The 1970s was a bad decade for the downtown; the focus — municipal and civic — was on the south side, which grew exponentially, gauged by the mounting clutter of billboards riding a Johnston Street skirted by subdivisions teeming with ranch-style houses. By the mid ’80s, much of the commercial space downtown was vacant, shuttered. Jefferson Street was a one-way between Lee and Cypress streets, and coming up the railroad underpass from Evangeline Thruway motorists encountered a “Do Not Enter” sign when they reached Cypress at the gateway to downtown. Do not enter, indeed.
As this week’s cover story details, another phase of StreetScape plus three and possibly four major developments will continue to transform downtown Lafayette this year into the urban oasis planners envisioned more than a decade ago. Despite the recent negative press, things are looking up downtown.
If you’re a newbie in Lafayette you might assume our venerable downtown has always been this way. Nothing could be further from the truth.
New menu items ready for the Lenten season
The Cane Fire Film Series screens “MaidenTrip” on Monday, March 10, at the AcA.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The vibe of the tribe done modern
The Louisiana Workforce Commission said Friday that initial claims rose to 2,125 from the previous week's total of 1,964. There were 2,887 initial claims during the comparable week in 2013.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has stalled action on a $3.5 billion annual school funding formula due to state lawmakers by March 15.
The New Orleans Saints have yet to make it official as of this writing, but popular wide receiver Lance Moore has reportedly been cut by the team to free up salary-cap space on the roster.
While two medical marijuana bills are slated for the upcoming legislative session, what some Louisianans might not know is that the plant was approved for therapeutic use by state lawmakers in 1991.
The agenda is shaping up to be lighter than in previous years. But Jindal is term-limited, with fewer than two years remaining in office, and he saw his last big initiative — a proposed rewrite of Louisiana tax law — collapse without getting a vote in 2013.
Sharper has been held without bail because of an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities accusing him and another man of raping two women.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, March 07, 2014:
Two Lafayette men have been revealed by police as the infamous duo behind a caper that shook our fair city to its core.
She’s the daughter of the legendary Johnny Cash, but she’s been a gifted artist in her own right for three decades, and she’s coming to Lafayette.
The Lafayette Parish School Board has received a second letter of demand related to last year’s insurance debacle, this time from Key Benefit Administrators claiming it’s owed $93,000 from the school system.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The Louisiana coastline is vanishing faster than mappers can keep track.
A bill that would have overridden local ordinances prohibiting public and private employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay and transgender people has been pulled within less than a week of being filed.
The panel that selects nominees for a controversial New Orleans area flood control board — a board that is suing more than 90 oil, gas and pipeline companies — is set to discuss legislation affecting its independence.
State prison officials cannot keep secret the seller and manufacturer of the two drugs purchased for executions at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
State lawmakers will not appeal a judge's ruling that it was improper to use $3.7 million from a probation and parole officers' retirement fund to balance the state's operating budget.
Prepare yourselves for sun
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
Conservatives have been losing their minds over this satirical bit on the Colbert Report.
Due to the chaos of Mardi Gras and the weather, the entry deadline for this year's INDesign Awards has been extended by one week.
The Lafayette Parish School Board leaves a lot to be desired, but is scrapping the election process in favor of an appointed board the answer?
Queen Evangline and King Gabriel ruled Tuesday night
The House approved legislation Tuesday night to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.
IND Style does Gabriel
Newsy bits for the fam
The NFL has formally designated New Orleans' Jimmy Graham as a tight end for the purposes of his franchise tag value, which is now set at $7.05 million next season unless Graham and the Saints subsequently agree on a long-term deal.