2-story building without tenants
LAFAYETTE — City-Parish government is sinking $126,000 into repairs at Lafayette’s first city hall, but there are still no firm plans on who might set up shop in the downtown turn-of-the-century building on West Main Street.
The two-story brick building has been vacant since last year, when the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana moved down the street into Lafayette’s second city hall, joining a group that includes the Downtown Development Authority and a division of city-parish government that promotes international trade and tourism.
The first city hall in recent years had been enduring leaks and an air conditioning system on the brink.
Repairs are set to begin soon in the $126,000 project to replace the roof and the ailing air conditioning units and to rework the electrical system, said Jim Gros, who oversees facilities maintenance for city-parish government, which owns the building.
The project is expected to be complete within about three months, he said, but no decision has been made as to whether CODOFIL will return and, if not, who else might locate there.
“As of now, I know of no one going into that building,” Gros said.
Roxana Usner, a city-parish government planner who oversees the nonprofit Preservation Alliance of Lafayette, said there is hope something could be done to better showcase the historically significant property.
“I would love to see that building turn into something other than office space,” she said.
Usner said perhaps a gallery or some other public use could show off the building a bit more, but regardless, she hopes to bring more attention to a site that played prominently in the history of Lafayette.
She said the Preservation Alliance has earmarked $8,000 for signs at the building, but no decision has been made on precisely how the money will be used.
One wish, Usner said, is to do something to mark the still-existing foundation of the city’s old jail cells behind the building, where there were once segregated facilities for white and black inmates.
“We want to publicize that and tell that story,” Usner said.
The old city hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, one of the earliest buildings in Lafayette to receive that designation.
The structure was built in 1898 as the Bank of Lafayette, but the bank soon outgrew the building and sold it to the city for $4,500 in 1906 for use as a city hall, according to a history compiled when the building was nominated for the National Register.
The structure was designed by George Knapp, a self-taught architect who also drew up plans for several other downtown buildings, including the old Gordon Hotel on Jefferson Street and the downtown Masonic Temple.
“He built many of the buildings in Lafayette,” Usner said.
Knapp’s building on West Main Street served as Lafayette’s city hall until 1939 when a new city hall was built a few blocks away at the corner of Jefferson Street and Lee Avenue.
That building served as Lafayette’s city hall until 1980, when the current city hall opened on University Avenue in what had been a Sears store after the retailer moved to the Acadiana Mall.
After 1939, the original city hall served at various times as a city library, a home for the Planning Commission and a home for the Municipal Government Employees Civil Service Board.
City-Parish Chief Administrative Officer Dee Stanley said the door is still open for CODOFIL to return to the first city hall, but the agency might want to stay in its new location, which offers some advantages because the city division that handles international trade and tourism is also there.
Other than the CODOFIL possibility, Stanley said, there are no firm prospects.
Gros said he hopes to get some group in the building as soon as is practical after the repairs are completed later this year.
“Once you leave a building vacant, it tends to deteriorate,” Gros said.