Plans for Lafayette park progressing

The coming months should bring more serious planning and fundraising in the effort to transform the 100-acre Horse Farm on Johnston Street into a central park, City-Parish President Joey Durel said in a year-end interview about the future of the property.

City-parish government bought the Horse Farm in July from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Durel said he expects to bring an agreement before the Lafayette City-Parish Council early this year outlining who will oversee development of the park.

The city would retain ownership of the Horse Farm under the agreement, he said, but the plan is to hand over development and management of the park to the Community Foundation of Acadiana, a philanthropic group that would likely create a separate board dedicated to the project.

City-parish government has not set aside any money for the development of the park, and the project at this time depends on donations.

There are no design plans and no estimates for how much the park might cost, but Durel has said as much as $20 million might be needed to build the park and to set aside money for its long-term maintenance.

Durel said he plans to make fundraising for the Horse Farm a priority in his third and final term of office, which began in 2012.

“I decided that if I got re-elected, I would spend my next four years trying to raise money for the horse farm,” he said.

Durel said he could not speculate on how long it might take to develop the property or when any portion of it might be open to the public on a regular basis.

“I don’t think we are ready to just open the gate,” he said.

There have been events on the property during the past few months and Durel said he hopes to see some type of limited public use in the near term.

“I’d like to see us do something like a farmers market out there. I think it would be a great opportunity to open up the property on Saturday morning,” Durel said. “I think the more people who walk out there and enjoy it, the better they can dream.”

Some residents might have noticed work at the property over the past few months.

It’s not construction but rather cleaning up a tract that has gone for years without much attention.

Durel said crews have removed the remnants of an old house that burned down several years ago and have been filling in low spots with dirt and clearing undergrowth that was choking the many large live oaks at the Horse Farm.

“It gives these nice big trees the ability to breath again and thrive,” Durel said.

He said some residents voiced concern about the work around the trees, fearing that the city might have been removing valuable oaks rather than trying to save them.

“He has cleared out areas that needed to be cleared out, and it looks good,” said Sarah Schoeffler, with the local conservation group TreesAcadiana.

She said the group is working with a local Boy Scout troop to do an inventory and assessment of trees on the property.

“It’s going to be a wonderful addition to Lafayette’s green space,” Schoeffler said.

The idea of creating a central park at the Horse Farm grew out an abandoned plan to develop the property commercially.

Former ULL President Ray Authement had proposed exchanging some of the property with developers for land closer to the university’s main campus, but the idea was opposed.

City-parish government, ULL and the Community Foundation of Acadiana announced in 2009 that an anonymous donor was considering buying the property from ULL and allowing it to become a public park.

The donor backed out and then the City-Parish Council agreed to buy the property.

In a deal approved by the council in July, city-parish government paid ULL $5.8 million for the Horse Farm and traded the university an 8-acre city park that is adjacent to the school’s main campus.

The combined value of the cash payment and the property is $6.6 million.

The agreement with ULL stipulates that the park will not be used for organized sports such as football, baseball or basketballs, and the general discussions so far have focused on the development of gardens, walking paths, ponds and other so-called passive uses.