Lafayette council endorses ‘Horse Farm’ plans

The City-Parish Council signed off Tuesday on a long list of possibilities at the planned public park at the Horse Farm on Johnson Street, including nature trails, gardens, a farmers market, a dog park and areas for live music or other outdoor performances.

The list, which the council approved unanimously, emerged from a series of public forums that began in October

The next stage in development of the park is to take what’s essentially a community wish list and craft a design, putting lines on a map to indicate what areas of the 100-acre undeveloped tract will be used for what types of activities.

“These are the things that are possible. Now we have to find out what actually fits and what we can afford to build,” said Kurt Culbertson with the firm Design Workshop, which is managing the planning process.

The list of possible activities and features approved by the council had 32 items.

Among them were the seemingly obvious, such as restrooms and parking, as well as listings for children’s play areas, picnic areas, nature trails, a pond, education programs, a museum, hiking trails, gardens, gift shops, a restaurant, a dog park, an area for miniature golf, memorial spaces and a carousel.

A largely supportive crowd filled the council auditorium on Tuesday, with 49 people filling out comment cards indicating their approval of the list.

Several veterans showed up to ask that a small space be set aside for a veterans memorial. Some council members expressed an interest in that feature, though it won’t be addressed until design work begins.

“I think this world-class park gives us this great opportunity for our veterans to be recognized,” said Tom Green, commandant of the local detachment of the Marine Corps League.

There were concerns.

Lafayette Parish School Board member Hunter Beasley, who lives near Horse Farm property, asked the council to keep in mind that concerts or other events that attract big crowds could pose traffic and safety problems for the surrounding neighborhoods.

“You need to be concerned about a lot of these other issues that you need to keep in mind,” he said.

Thetis Cusimano warned of too many commercial ventures, such as restaurants and gift shops, saying a balance needs to be struck between preserving the natural beauty of the Horse Farm and generating the revenue needed to support the park.

The task of transforming the Horse Farm into a park is being overseen by 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 long-term management, and to raise the money needed to build it.

Another round of community forums is planned for early next year to discuss the park’s design, said Elizabeth “E.B.” Brooks, director of planning and design for Lafayette Central Park.

She said the master plan could be brought to the council for approval by late spring or early summer and construction at the park could begin by fall 2014.

The current plan is to build the park in phases, perhaps focusing on some of the more popular features first, Brooks said.

The Horse Farm property was once owned by the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The plan to build a central park there has its roots in a controversial proposal by former UL-Lafayette President Ray Authement to trade some of the property with commercial developers for land closer to the school’s main campus.

That idea was abandoned in 2006.

City-Parish President Joey Durel and UL-Lafayette President Joseph Savoie later negotiated a deal for the city to buy the property.

The City-Parish Council agreed in 2012 to pay UL-Lafayette $5.8 million for the Horse Farm and also to trade the university an 8-acre city park near the school’s main campus.

The only stipulation on development of the park came in that agreement, which prohibits permanent basketball courts, tennis courts and fields for organized team sports.

The plan is to pay for the park with private donations.

The cost will depend largely on the design that takes shape in the coming months, but Lafayette Central Park officials have given a rough estimate of about $30 million, which includes the cost of planning and construction and an endowment to cover long-term maintenance.