‘Horse Farm’ park project moves forward

City-Parish President Joey Durel on Tuesday made a pitch for $2.6 million in seed money to pay for shaping the plan to transform the 100-acre “Horse Farm” into a city park.

City-parish government bought the large, undeveloped tract on Johnston Street in July from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette with plans — but no budget — to create a central park there.

Durel on Tuesday asked the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority for up to $2.6 million to cover expenses related to creating the park plan.

He said that plan will be used in the effort to tap private donors for the more than $20 million that might be needed to build the park and pay for its upkeep.

“We can’t go out and raise money for the Horse Farm unless we have a plan,” Durel said.

The LPTFA is a self-supporting public authority that generates revenue through investments and financing and uses the proceeds to support public projects.

The LPTFA board did not approve the Horse Farm money on Tuesday but did vote to begin negotiating an agreement to help fund the project.

If the LPTFA approves the funding, Durel said, he expects meetings for community input to begin this year.

Construction could begin by the fall of 2014, according to a presentation about the project given Tuesday by the Community Foundation of Acadiana.

The current plan calls for the CFA, a local philanthropy group, to create a new nonprofit foundation that would lease the property from city-parish government and oversee the development and longterm management of the park.

The CFA gave a rough estimate of $30.4 million for the park project — $2.6 million for planning, $13.9 million for construction and $13.9 million to establish an endowment to cover longterm maintenance expenses.

That figure is not firm and depends on the type of park that community members support, said Lenny Lemoine, outgoing board chairman for the CFA.

He said that fundraising for the park needs to begin with a clear plan, “so when people contribute, they know exactly what they are contributing to.”

The only current guidance on the park design is a stipulation in the sale agreement with ULL that prohibits the park’s use for organized sports such as football, baseball or basketball.

General discussions so far have focused on the development of gardens, walking paths, ponds and other so-called “passive” uses.

Durel went to the LPTFA once before for money related to the Horse Farm, prompting the group in 2010 to give preliminary approval for a $2 million donation to help purchase the property.

City-parish government did not take the LPTFA up on that offer, and Durel has said he had hoped instead to use any money approved by LPTFA to jump start the planning effort.

“I thought this would be a great source of seed money for the Horse Farm,” he said.

In a deal approved by the council in last year, 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 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 commercial developers for land closer to the university’s main campus.

That plan was abandoned in the face of vocal community opposition.

City-parish government, ULL and the CFA 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.