Public will have say in new Lafayette public park

Residents will soon be able to speak up on the future of the “Horse Farm” after years of groundwork for a plan to transform the property into a public park, according to officials overseeing the project.

The City-Parish Council last year approved the purchase of the vacant 100-acre tract on Johnson Street to create a new central park — an idea that grew out of an abandoned plan more than six years ago to develop some of the property commercially.

The Community Foundation of Acadiana last week announced the creation of a new nonprofit group to raise money for the park and to oversee its development and long-term management.

“Now that they have the (nonprofit) board formed, things will speed up really quickly,” City-Parish President Joey Durel said.

The last step before serious planning and design work begins is a planned agreement under which the nonprofit group, Lafayette Central Park Inc., will lease the property from city-parish government, Durel said.

That agreement is expected to come before the council within a month, he said, and the process will then shift from the behind-the-scenes groundwork to public outreach for ideas on the future of the Horse Farm.

Durel said that the agreement he plans to bring before the council will largely leave the oversight of the park with the new nonprofit group.

“The whole idea is to get the politicians out,” Durel said.

No timeline has been set for when outreach will begin, but the Lafayette Central Park board envisions several opportunities for public input, including opening seats on planning committees to the public and town-hall-style meetings, Lafayette Central Park board member Allyson Pharr said.

“We are there to execute the vision of the community, not to make the decision for them,” she said.

The rough estimate for the project is about $30.4 million — $2.6 million for planning, $13.9 million for construction and $13.9 million to establish an endowment to cover long-term maintenance expenses, according to preliminary figures from a meeting about the project last month.

The costs will depend largely on the plan that develops, and Durel said there are no preconceived notions for what the park will look like.

“You would really like to get what the community wants out there,” he said.

The only aspect of the part design known for certain is that it will not feature fields for football, baseball or other organized sports.

Those restrictions were written into the purchase agreement when city-parish government bought the property from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette last year.

General discussions have focused on the development of a so-called passive park — including walking trails, gardens and ponds.

City-parish government paid $5.8 million for the Horse Farm and also traded ULL an 8-acre city park next to the school’s main campus.

Durel said future spending for the park is expected to come from private donors, with the exception of up to $2.6 million that he has requested from the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority to help pay for planning.

The LPTFA, which has not yet approved the funding, is a self-supporting public authority that makes money through investments and financing and uses the proceeds to support public projects.

The plan to develop the Horse Farm into a central park has its roots in a controversial proposal by former ULL President Ray Authement to exchange some of the property with commercial developers for land closer to the school’s main campus.

Authement dropped the plan in 2006 in the face of public opposition.

City-parish government and ULL announced in 2009 that an anonymous donor was considering buying the property for use as a public park, but that deal later fell through.

Durel announced plans in 2010 for city-parish government to buy the property, a deal that was sealed in July.