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.
Louisiana's 21 casinos took in $203.5 million statewide in June, edging up one-half of a percentage point from a year earlier.
Three bedroom Sunset Victorian or three bedroom Opelousas Acadian home
Louisiana designer commissioned for NYC Awards gift
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is considering whether to get involved in a lawsuit against Gov. Bobby Jindal for his attempts to undermine use of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana's public schools.
Business First Bank has announced plans for a Baton Rouge market expansion through a merger deal with American Gateway Financial Corp.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
The latest meeting of a south Louisiana flood board that stirred political turmoil with a lawsuit against the oil and gas industry is taking place amid uncertainty over the future of the lawsuit — and the board's own membership.
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Advocate columnist and Jindal shill Quin Hillyer has been against the New Orleans levee board lawsuit from day one, but a recent piece targeting author/activist John Barry prompted the perfect rebuttal from the board’s former vice-president, who takes Hillyer to task on just about every distorted claim he’s made on the issue.
Thursday's Blogs from the Bog!
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Pat Bowlen steps down; typhoon caused Taiwan plane crash; Arizona execution botched and more national and international news for Thursday, July 24, 2014.
Thousands of people who bought health insurance through the marketplace created by the federal health care overhaul face price hikes next year that could top 10 percent.
Three bedroom traditional Lafayette home or three bedroom Breaux Bridge home
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The city prosecutor has released the case file for Lafayette Parish School Board member Tehmi Chassion’s simple battery complaint against Superintendent Pat Cooper, and the seven witness statements given to police illustrate two very different scenarios.
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Louisiana fell one spot in an annual national ranking of child well-being that looks at poverty, education and health access.
A federal judge has decided he doesn't need to hear more arguments in the case of a gay couple who want a Louisiana marriage license.
Saints again bring playoff aspirations into 2014 campaign.
New details in the case against the man arrested for last week’s bomb threat and bank robbery has surfaced, including a MidSouth Bank surveillance video showing the alleged suspect attempt an early-morning bank robbery.
Citing conflicting witness accounts, the city prosecutor will not pursue Tehmi Chassion’s allegation of simple battery against Superintendent Pat Cooper.
Smoked meat, fresh sides and the best boudin around
Mellow Mushroom Pizza Bakers opens on Johnston.
Cirque du Soleil effortlessly combines circus art with beloved Michael Jackson hits.
Kelly Guidry Open House
Parents and teachers who support the Common Core education standards sued Gov. Bobby Jindal Tuesday over his actions against the multi-state standards, accusing him of illegally meddling in education policy.
Acadiana's nightlife guide.
An arrest was announced this morning in connection with last week’s bomb scare at UL Lafayette.
Attorneys, judges and others interviewed by LaPolitics expect 15 to 20 district judge races this year.