Word of the year: Momentum
2019 was a transformative year for Downtown Lafayette, one that will mark the beginning of a new decade of momentum for the heart of Acadiana. Our organization has undergone exciting changes, beginning with the appointment of Anita Begnaud as the CEO of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited (DLU) in October of 2018. Anita hit the ground running by reinvigorating DLU’s membership and programming efforts, hiring Maureen Dugas Foster as the first ever Director of DLU, and acting as the spokesperson for a list of catalytic projects in Downtown—from the renovation of the Old Federal Courthouse and the construction of Vermilion Lofts and Buchanan Heights, to efforts addressing Downtown’s pressing infrastructure issues.
Over the course of 2019, the word “momentum” continued to pop up when people would talk about Downtown. It’s easy to see why. The efforts of our team in 2019 were centered around bringing new energy to the center of Lafayette. By diving deep into producing quality events—whether improving long-time favorites like Downtown Alive! and the Rooftop Crawfish Boil, or creating new family-friendly traditions like the Sno-Ball Festival and the Merry & Bright Christmas—we were able to bring over 100,000 visitors to Downtown. These visitors came to enjoy the best of Acadiana’s culture: the food, music, art, and nightlife that permeates throughout the district.
Creating connections and opportunities for engagement
But Downtown is more than an entertainment district. It is also Lafayette’s central business district, and in 2019 DDA and DLU worked to strengthen relationships and create connections with business leaders. The Downtown Lunch & Learn series began in February of 2019 as a way to connect DLU members and Downtown business leaders, while also keeping the community of Downtown stakeholders educated and engaged with the pressing issues facing the district. The Lunch & Learns of 2019 focused on important topics like sewage capacity, safety, accessibility, and Downtown’s role as a cultural district. Other events like the quarterly Downtown Meet-Ups and the 2019 council and Mayor-President candidate forums helped to keep stakeholders connected and future community leaders engaged with the needs of a growing Downtown. These efforts to bring people together and educate them about the top issues facing our district have certainly created momentum for DLU’s membership, which doubled in size to over 200 members in 2019.
Growth in business
The efforts of our office have served to highlight and enhance the work and investment of hundreds of leaders in the Downtown community. In 2019 alone, over 14 new businesses opened in Downtown. The district has proven to be a successful restaurant and nightlife district, but new trends are pointing to an increase in desirability for tech companies like Waitr who moved their Lafayette headquarters Downtown in March, Perficient who committed to adding 70 new positions at their Lafayette Delivery Center on Jefferson Street, and CGI who employees more than 100 professionals who are working Downtown each and every day.
Much anticipated residential
As new businesses move into Downtown, they bring demand for housing in the area, and in 2019 we saw a number of developers step up to kick-start a revitalization in housing that has been on the minds of community leaders for decades. This trend started in late 2018 with the announcement of the sale of the former Federal Courthouse to a group of developers to convert into a mixed commercial/residential development, which will result in 68 residential units on Jefferson Street and 25,500 square feet of new commercial space. This news was quickly followed by the groundbreakings of Vermilion Lofts and Buchanan Heights. Additionally, the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority plans to build 70 units on their campus on the edge of the Downtown District. Altogether, the number of new housing units announced or under construction in 2019 is more than 200. Once these projects are completed and occupied they have the potential to almost double the population of Downtown Lafayette.
Vermilion Lofts, a mixed-use residential project of 24 dwelling-units and 3,600 square feet of retail space is now available for leasing. Want to live in Downtown Lafayette? Visit their website to learn more: http://vermilionlofts.com/
Jump starting small scale improvements
In addition to new businesses and developments, the Downtown Development Authority has been working on a consistent stream of improvements to the Downtown streetscape and existing properties in the district. DDA kicked off the Facade Improvement Program in 2019, which led to seven unique façade renovations in the district and the installation of over 15 awnings. Improvement projects ranged from new paint jobs and awnings, to murals and full-fledged transformations like the one at Rêve Coffee Roasters. DDA also partnered with the owners of Rock’n’Bowl de Lafayette to install 40 self-watering hanging baskets along Jefferson Street, bringing seasonal pops of color to the streetscape. These small scale improvements are based on theories like tactical and incremental urbanism which emphasize the power that small improvements and investments can have on a district at large.
Investing in infrastructure
The hope is that these small-scale improvements will encourage property owners to reinvest in their properties, creating an overall increase in value for the district. But there are also underlying systemic issues that have been identified as holding back Downtown’s potential for growth. A lack of sewage capacity in the district means future residential developments could be once again halted. And disabled residents and visitors to Downtown still have to navigate a treacherous environment of broken curbs and utility poles blocking sidewalks. Plus, the streetscape and parcs of Downtown have lacked a plan for regular maintenance and updates for decades. But the lack of investment has not remained unaddressed, as the community of business leaders in Downtown have stepped up to advocate for investment and the prioritization of Downtown.
The board of the Lafayette Public Trust and Financing Authority (LPTFA) voted in early December to pay for the construction of a new sewage lift station for the Downtown district. The lift station will create capacity for over 1,000 new residential units, including 70 market-rate apartments at the corner of Monroe and Olivier Streets that LPTFA plans to build. In addition to LPTFA’s lift station, other Downtown business leaders have been active in petitioning council members for legislation that could fund infrastructure projects in Downtown. These leaders were able to produce results at the end of 2019 with the passage of the Downtown Economic Development District (EDD) by Lafayette’s City-Parish Council. The new district will be funded by a 1% sales and 2% hotel occupancy tax applied throughout Downtown, and will be overseen by the EDD board made up of City Council members. The board will work in collaboration with DDA and the City of Lafayette to determine where to apply funding toward projects that will have a positive effect on Downtown—like investments in accessibility and drainage, as well as improvements of streetscapes and parcs.
The next decade of Downtown
Continuing the momentum of 2019 is a primary goal of the Downtown Lafayette office. Key areas of focus include:
- Implementation of the Downtown Lafayette Strategic Plan, a joint venture of the DDA and DLU to achieve our united vision of a Downtown core that belongs to all of Acadiana and serves as an engine for economic development, cultural preservation and growth, and quality of life.
- Working with the City Council and the new LCG administration to develop a plan to utilize EDD funding for projects that make Downtown more development-friendly.
- Downtown as a neighborhood: ensuring that the district is able to provide amenities that make Downtown an attractive place for new and existing residents to live.
- Continuing the success of DLU’s membership and programming by providing events and settings that draw the community together and stimulate foot traffic to Downtown businesses.
- Encouraging investment from Downtown property owners to increase the value and appeal of the district.
- Informing our followers with meaningful coverage of news and progress happening Downtown.
Residential developments in planning or under construction
Events hosted by DLU
New DLU Members