Retail center gets council support for tax dollars

The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday signed off on pledging an estimated $8.5 million in future property taxes to pay for roads, utility lines and other infrastructure needed for a 58-acre, high-end retail center at the intersection of Ambassador Caffery Parkway and Kaliste Saloom Road.

Ambassador Town Center would be anchored by Costco, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Field & Stream, Marshall’s and Home Goods, according to a marketing package for the project from the lead developer, Stirling Properties.

Some council members and residents spoke against the proposal, questioning the use of public dollars to support a private project in an upscale area at a high-traffic intersection that would surely be developed with or without government help.

“The problem I have is the location. It is prime real estate,” said Councilman Jared Bellard, one of three councilman to oppose the measure.

City-Parish President Joey Durel said he is generally opposed to giving public assistance to private developments, but he believes the proposed retail project is exceptional and that if Lafayette doesn’t offer some incentives to seal the deal, another community will.

“We have to decide: Do we want to compete or do we want to lay down,” Durel said.

Approval by the council was not required to move the proposal forward. The resolution was more of an effort to obtain the council’s blessing.

The details of the proposal are to be worked out by the Industrial Development Board, which has overseen similar deals in the past.

The general plan is to use property tax revenue from the retail center to repay the money used to build the infrastructure.

None of the money would be used for infrastructure within the development but rather for a long list of improvements required by the state before the developer is allowed to tie in to existing roads, such as drainage work, modifying intersections and adding new lanes, said Ryan Pecot, a commercial broker with Stirling Properties.

Durel said the infrastructure could also include a police substation in the area and a new road running parallel to Ambassador Caffery alongside the development.

Pecot said traffic studies show the road work would reduce traffic on Ambassador Caffery and Kaliste Saloom even considering the new drivers the retail center would attract.

Former legislator Ron Gomez spoke against the proposal, saying government should not single out one developer to help.

“It’s just an unfair way of doing business,” he said. “… They will be challenged in court, if by nobody else, me.”

Private developers generally take on the cost of required infrastructure in and around a site, but the Ambassador Town Center is an unusually large development for Lafayette and faces millions of dollars in required infrastructure.

Durel said sales taxes generated by the business, which would still be collected, would more than make up for the property tax money used for infrastructure work.

“We are a city that depends very heavily on sales taxes,” he said. “We have by far the lowest property tax of any major city in Louisiana.”

The development, estimated at $90 million to $100 million, would total about 450,000 square feet of retail space, according to information from Stirling Properties.

Construction is set to begin by the end of 2014, assuming everything goes as planned, and the retail center could be open by fall 2015, Stirling Vice President of Development Townsend Underhill said last week.

Underhill said such large, high-end retail projects generally rely on some form of public assistance for infrastructure work to make them economically feasible.

“There is a gap in what the project can support,” he said.

The council voted 6-3 to sign off on the tax plan.

Councilmen Kevin Naquin, Kenneth Boudreaux, Jay Castille, Brandon Shelvin, Don Bertrand and Keith Patin voted in support.

Councilmen Bellard, William Theriot and Andy Naquin opposed the measure.