Developers point to favorable changes
LAFAYETTE — Two well-known developers who have staked claims in north Lafayette gave upbeat assessments Wednesday for the growth potential for an area that has often been passed over in favor of booming regions to the south.
“We are bullish on north Lafayette,” said Robert Daigle, the developer of River Ranch in Lafayette and Sugar Mill Pond in Youngsville who is now developing the 125-acre Couret Farms planned community off Pont des Mouton Road.
Daigle and Lewis Stirling, of Stirling Properties, spoke Wednesday at an Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation forum on the prospects for the future development in northern reaches of the parish.
Daigle told the crowd that he spent part of his childhood in north Lafayette along Louisiana Avenue, but his decision to invest there was driven by economics rather than emotion.
One factor, he said, is the dwindling supply and escalating price of good land in the densely populated areas to the south. He said the northern area of the parish offers plenty of open land at reasonable rates.
“It’s generally high land. It’s beautiful land,” Daigle said.
The availability of land less susceptible to flooding and hurricane threats has been one factor in the recent shift of some businesses to facilities north of Interstate 10.
The rising number of new businesses in the area has created a market of more workers seeking homes close to their jobs, Daigle said, citing in particular the new 200,000-square-foot Halliburton plant that opened in 2012 just down the road from Couret Farms.
He also said north Lafayette is an attractive market for him because the area has no developments similar to Couret Farms — a dense, walkable community that mixes homes and apartments with retail shops, offices and restaurants.
“We generally go and try to do things that other people in the market are not doing,” Daigle said.
While Daigle’s Couret Farms project comes to life, one of the earliest major commercial developments in north Lafayette has filled out after opening about five years ago. The retail center now includes a Target, an Academy Sports, a JC Penney and a wide range of other shops.
Business there continues to grow, and the shopping center now provides more than 900 part-time and full-time jobs and supports a $13.5 million annual payroll, Stirling said.
The Stirling Properties retail center at the Louisiana Avenue/I-10 interchange still seems an island of commercial activity amid scattered subdivisions and large tracts of vacant land. But Stirling said the large number of homes and the amount of traffic in the area indicated a need for retail that was not being met.
“Retail follows people. We don’t build ahead of the growth,” he said. “... There are lots of new roof tops.”
Stirling said another major consideration in choosing the site was city-parish government’s plans to improve Pont des Mouton Road and to extend Louisiana Avenue, two roads that work together to better circulate traffic around north Lafayette.
The retail center also was designed to tie into a planned service road along I-10 from Evangeline Thruway to Louisiana Avenue, if that project ever moves forward.
Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Jan Swift said Stirling’s retail center was a turning point of sorts for north Lafayette, an example to other commercial developers of the opportunities in the northern part of the parish.
“That was such a beacon of hope for the community,” she said.
Other developments have followed, including a new retail center near Carencro anchored by Super 1 Foods.
“Sometimes all it takes is a couple of pioneers to get things going,” Daigle said.
A lingering impediment to robust residential growth in northern Lafayette Parish, Daigle said, is the quality of public schools.
“It is the very thing that kept us out of upper Lafayette as long as we were,” Daigle said.
The developer said he is hopeful about the school turnaround plan promoted by new School Superintendent Pat Cooper. In the meantime, Daigle said, plans are in the works for a charter school at the Couret Farms development.