Residents can voice their opinions at series of forums
LAFAYETTE — The 100-acre Horse Farm on Johnston Street is a blank slate, a sprawling vacant tract in the middle of the city, spared from commercial development and now awaiting transformation into a park.
Residents who want a say in how it will look can make their voices heard in a series of public forums scheduled Oct. 23 to Oct. 26.
“We are very committed to making sure public input is a big part of the process,” said Elizabeth “EB” Brooks, director of planning and design for Lafayette Central Park Inc.
The nonprofit group entered into an agreement with Lafayette city-parish government earlier this year to take over the park’s design and management.
The group is also raising the millions of dollars needed for project.
Brooks said there are no specific plans at this time for the property, and the design process will be driven by public input at the upcoming forums.
“We really have no agenda other than to listen to the community,” she said.
Brooks said anyone planning to attend the forums should set aside at least two hours. The national firm Design Workshop is overseeing the public forums and the design process.
The forums will include a review of model parks in other areas and brainstorming sessions on what the Lafayette park should offer, she said.
Those ideas will be explored and refined in futures forums, as residents and the design team set priorities, consider costs and, ultimately, draw up a plan.
“You have to know what you want before you decide where to put it,” Brooks said.
Under the timeline, which is subject to change, the design work could be finished by the summer 2014, and the first phase of the park could open by the fall 2015, she said.
There project is funded by private donations, but the ultimate cost will depend on the design.
Lafayette Central Park officials have given a rough estimate of about $30 million, which includes cost of planning and construction and an endowment to cover long-term maintenance.
The Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority has pledged $2.6 million to cover planning expenses.
The LPTFA is a self-supporting public authority that makes money through financing and investments and uses the proceeds to help pay for public projects.
The plan to build a central park at the Horse Farm began when former UL Lafayette President Ray Authement floated an idea to exchange some UL property with commercial developers for land closer to the school’s main campus.
That proposal was met with community opposition, and Authement abandoned the idea in 2006.
City-Parish President Joey Durel announced a plan in 2010 for city-parish government to buy the property.
Durel and UL Lafayette President Joseph Savoie negotiated a deal, consummated in 2012, when the Lafayette City-Parish Council voted to pay UL Lafayette $5.8 million for the Horse Farm and also trade the university an 8-acre city park near the school’s main campus.
There are no park facilities on the property, but the Horse Farm is open to the public every Saturday for a farmers market, started by Durel earlier this year.
Durel said he started the market primarily to give residents an opportunity to see the property and to build excitement about the park possibilities.
Attendance at the Saturday markets has ranged from 3,000 to 4,000 people, and a Lafayette Master Gardener’s plant sale at Horse Farm on Sept. 14 attracted more than 12,000 visitors, Durel said.