Cajun Field expansion seen as boost to Lafayette’s economy

The expansion of Cajun Field will pump an additional $20.2 million into the local economy and create an estimated 143 jobs, as it draws more fans to University of Louisiana at Lafayette football games, according to an economic development study released Wednesday.

Once complete, the expansion, part of the university’s $115 million master plan for athletics, nearly doubles seating in the stadium to about 62,000.

Prior to the expansion, Ragin’ Cajun football generated about $27.3 million for the local economy and supported 241 jobs in Acadiana, based on the report prepared by the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. The addition of more seating is expected to generate an additional $20.2 million and create 143 more jobs.

“That’s like attracting a major industry to the area — like we just did,” said Gregg Gothreaux, LEDA executive director.

Gothreaux was alluding to plans by information technology company CGI to move to Lafayette, where it will become a new tenant in university’s research park. The move is expected to generate 400 new jobs for the community.

Gothreaux credited the university and its athletics programs for helping attract and retain businesses and young professionals.

The economic development study, funded by MidSouth Bank, is based on 2013 game attendance, university athletic finance reports and a survey of 105 football spectators conducted during the 2013 season.

In the five home games of 2013, spectators spent nearly $11.1 million on game-related expenses. The findings were released during a press conference Wednesday at LEDA’s offices in the university’s research park.

The study will assist the university as it moves forward with a capital campaign to fund additional phases of its master plan , including a press box and club-level seating area, said Scott Farmer, UL-Lafayette athletics director.

“We want to grow. We want to grow our venues, and we want to make wise decisions on how to grow our venues,” Farmer said.

As part of the continuing renovations of Cajun Field, the eight-story press box will also have a top-story banquet room for year-round rentals.

A cafeteria and bookstore will also be housed as part of the expansion to benefit student-athletes and student drivers who park at Cajun Field and use campus transit, he said.

“We’re trying to do almost a little community out there that can be used every day of the year,” Farmer said.

The report also supports the university’s athletic facilities fundraising efforts because it shows the football program’s impact on the community, Farmer said.

“It gives us some of the numbers we need to sell the stadium,” he said.

The study findings are based on 85 percent stadium capacity, so there’s room to improve, Gothreaux joked.

“The only way to grow this is for more tailgaters to come and more fans to turn out,” he said. “If we support UL, it pays big for Lafayette and Acadiana.”

An expansion, now underway, to add about 6,000 in end-zone seating to Cajun Field’s current 31,000 capacity began last year as part of an initial phase of the master plan. The work is expected to be complete in time for the Ragin’ Cajuns home opener Aug. 30 against the Southern University Jaguars.