Downtown Lafayette is in a weird place right now. It’s arguably more alive than ever. But that momentum feels like it could disappear. Which is why we need to continue doing everything we can to make its continued development one of our community’s top priorities.
Last week, I walked into Tsunami with my wife and a friend and were greeted with an hour’s wait for a table. So we walked over Central, and ran smack dab into another hour’s wait. It was 6 p.m. On a Wednesday! I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen that kind of a wait at multiple restaurants on a weekday in the 10-plus years we’ve lived here.
Over the weekend, I got to enjoy one of my favorite times of the month: ArtWalk. We grabbed a glass of wine at Wild Child with some friends from New Orleans. Then we strolled to see some great art at Basin Arts and the Acadiana Center for the Arts. Then we started up Jefferson and checked out the Sans Souci Fine Arts Gallery’s amazing new location and stopped in to see the latest goodies at Deuxieme Vie Creative Reuse Center. Along the way we checked out numerous street vendors and bumped into friends galore. Then we popped into Vestal for a quick cocktail and bite to eat. And ended the evening at Blue Moon for some great music and conversation.
This is the definition of vibrancy.
Adding to this momentum after years of neglect are the tens of millions of dollars budgeted for drainage and streetscaping and improvements to Downtown’s public spaces thanks to a bunch of free money from the federal government. These are the kinds of investments we need to continue making to incentivize private investment and economic development in our urban core.
With all this good stuff going on, it’s hard not to feel that Downtown Lafayette is alive! But it’s also facing challenges that could derail the momentum.
Downtown still lacks sewer capacity, and that’s hindering development. Because of the lack of forethought and planning, major housing developments are on hold until another temporary solution is found to make sure everyone’s toilets keep working. This problem could have been avoided if we’d been proactive and believed in Downtown’s future potential.
And local leaders have been unwilling to follow the lead of other vibrant communities by locating Lafayette’s new performing arts center Downtown. It’s a recipe for success that leverages the existing organic energy of restaurants and galleries and shops and creates a dynamic walkable entertainment district that catalyzes investment in private developments.
Instead, our leaders have fixated on building a field of dreams in UL’s research park, essentially because it’s easier to build. This decision betrays a complete lack of understanding of how to grow cities from the inside out and how to maximize our community’s return on investment.
Many people are living homeless on the street around Downtown. The problem’s likely to get worse given Lafayette’s inaction on making any serious attempt to add shelter space. And the perception alone that Downtown has a problem is enough to keep many people away, even though homelessness is common in urban environments like Downtown.
Looking ahead I can see a future Downtown filled with thousands of new residences, dozens of new shops and restaurants and innovative companies, and a number of catalytic community projects. But I can also see a future filled with stagnation, where we lose this momentum.
My fervent hope is that as a community we continue rallying around Downtown as one of our top priorities. That we don’t allow doubts about Downtown’s viability or safety to become self-fulfilling prophecies. That we instead double down on our belief that not only is our Downtown great today, but we can make it even greater tomorrow. And that by doing so we don’t just benefit the people who live, work, play and invest Downtown. We also build a brighter future for our city, our parish and the entire Acadiana region.
Downtown Lafayette is the lynchpin to future prosperity for our area. So let’s treat it that way.