Lafayette moves central park plan forward

Planned park
Planned park

The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday approved an agreement that calls for a nonprofit group to take over fundraising, development and management of a planned central park at the 100-acre “Horse Farm” on Johnston Street.

City-parish government bought the large, undeveloped tract last year from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to create a central park there.

The plan had long been to hand over the project to a nonprofit group, and Lafayette Central Park Inc. was formed earlier this year to lease the property from city-parish government and oversee development of the park.

“The taxpayers paid for the property to preserve it, … but at the same time, we have an opportunity to get it off the backs of government,” City-Parish President Joey Durel said.

A key advantage is that the nonprofit group will likely have an easier time than government in raising money for the park, Durel said.

He also said that a nonprofit group working with private donations will not have the same legal restrictions that would require government to go through a public bid process to hire companies to design and build the park.

“They don’t have to go with who’s the cheapest; they can go with who they think will do the best job for Lafayette,” Durel said. “The goal is to have a world-class park.”

The agreement between city-parish government and Lafayette Central Park calls for the nonprofit group to return to the council twice for further approvals, once for the general plan on what types of activities will take place at the park and again for the master plan for the design of the park.

The agreement also requires Lafayette Central Park to spend at least $6.8 million on the project, but Durel said he expects the total cost to hover around $30 million, which would include an endowment for long-term maintenance.

Construction at the park could begin within 18 months, and the first step in the development process will be an intensive outreach effort to gather public input for what should be built there, said attorney Charles Landry, who is working on the project with Lafayette Central Park.

The agreement between the council and Lafayette Central Park puts in place only a handful of restrictions on the park’s design, including prohibitions on swimming pools, a golf course, off-road vehicles and permanent fields for organized sports, such as basketball, football, baseball, softball and soccer.

City-parish officials have said in the past that the general idea is to develop a so-called “passive park” ­— ponds, walking trails, sculpture gardens, picnic areas.

Lafayette Central Park has brought in the Urban Land Institute to oversee the process for gathering public input for the park.

The nonprofit institute works with communities nationwide on land use and real estate development.

Landry said the Urban Land Institute has visited the city and will issue recommendations later this summer on how best to implement an outreach program.

The Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority has pledged the $2.6 million as seed money to develop a plan for the project, but Lafayette Central Park will probably not move forward with a major fundraising campaign for the construction of the park until it is designed, said Lafayette Economic Development Authority President Gregg Gothreaux, who sits on the park’s board.

“We haven’t started raising money because we don’t know what we are raising money for or how much we need to raise,” he said.

The council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve the agreement with Lafayette Central Park.

The only concerns were raised by Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux, who asked that planners for the park reach out to all members of the community, regardless of age, ethnicity or race.

“We actually want to do something that is going to make people want to be a part of it,” Boudreaux said.

Landry said the goal is to bring the entire community into the planning process.

“That’s very important to everybody concerned,” he said.