By RICHARD BURGESS
July 10, 2012
LAFAYETTE — A plan to transform the 100-acre Horse Farm on Johnston Street into a city park took a big step forward Tuesday when the City-Parish Council approved buying the property from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The council voted 7-2 to pay $5.8 million to ULL and trade the university an 8-acre city park next to the school’s main campus.
City-Parish President Joey Durel said he plans to iron out an agreement with the Community Foundation of Acadiana that calls for the philanthropic group to oversee a campaign to raise money to build the park.
Durel said it was appropriate city-parish government purchased the property to ensure it remains publicly accessible, but he said private donors must step forward to plan, build and maintain the park.
“We’re really excited about moving forward. Now is where the hard part starts,” said Elizabeth Brooks, a central figure in the “Save the Horse Farm” campaign spawned about six years ago when there were plans to develop some of the property commercially.
Councilman Don Bertrand said the Horse Farm was likely city-parish government’s last chance to secure a large undeveloped tract for a park in the heart of the city.
“The decision to save and preserve the Horse Farm is the biggest and best decision made in the last 100 years and probably for the next 200 years, if not more,” he said.
Councilmen Jared Bellard and William Theriot cast the only “no” votes against the Horse Farm deal.
“If this vote were at a time when LCG (Lafayette Consolidated Government) was flush with money, I would have no problem supporting it,” Theriot said in a written statement he handed out after the council meeting. “Considering LCG’s current financial condition, fiscal responsibility tells me I cannot at this time.”
The council is preparing for a tight upcoming budget that the administration has said needs to be about $5 million leaner than this fiscal year.
Still, Durel and other council members have argued the purchase of the Horse Farm is a rare opportunity and an investment in the city’s future.
There is no timeline for development of the property, though Durel has said he expects some form of public access, possibly trails, within the next three or four years.
The agreement with ULL stipulates the land be developed as a park within 10 years and there will be no tennis courts or fields for basketball, baseball, softball, soccer or football on the property.
Past discussions about the Horse Farm have focused on developing the land as a passive park, which could include gardens, hiking trails and picnic areas.
Durel said he expects the development to be overseen by a board created through the Community Foundation of Acadiana.
ULL officials have said there are no immediate plans for the 8-acre Youth Park the city is trading the university as part of the deal. Unlike the Horse Farm, Youth Park is adjacent to ULL’s main campus.
Durel said the park will offer the landlocked university room to expand, and the $5.8 million payment for the Horse Farm is being set aside to acquire more property closer the ULL’s main campus.
The Horse Farm has been appraised for $6.6 million, equal to combined value of the $5.8 million payment and the $800,000 appraised value of the Youth Park.
The idea of creating a central park on the Horse Farm property grew out of former ULL President Ray Authement’s controversial proposal in 2006 to exchange some of the property with commercial developers for land closer to the school’s main campus.
The land swap was abandoned, but it energized a movement to create a park on the property.
ULL, the Community Foundation and Durel announced in 2009 that an anonymous donor was seriously considering buying the Horse Farm from ULL for use as a public park.
The donor later backed out, and Durel proposed in 2010 that city-parish government buy the property.