The gist: A major real estate developer has reportedly moved to purchase the Less Pay Motel and the adjacent former Coca-Cola building, together comprising a whole block of the beleaguered Four Corners area.
What we know: Two separately owned properties are under contract for an undisclosed redevelopment project: the Less Pay Motel at 120 N. University Ave. and the former Coca-Cola bottling facility at 1506 Cameron St. Representatives of both properties have confirmed independently that the buildings are pending sale, but would not disclose terms or the buyer.
UPDATE: A public notice for a $15 million artist loft development called Bottle Art Lofts, located at the bottling facility, links HRI Properties, a New Orleans-based development outfit with extensive experience in historic rehabilitation, to the sale of that property. The development would include 40 units with a “leasing preference” for artists and would be primarily financed with the equity sale of low income housing tax credits. State records list HRI’s New Orleans address for Lafayette Bottle Art Lofts, LLC, the company issuing the public notice.
HRI also submitted qualifications to redevelop the old federal courthouse, a project that was ultimately awarded to a team helmed by Jim Poché of Southwest Group.
It’s unclear if HRI is also the buyer of the Less Pay Motel.
“A number of things we have wanted to see are coming to fruition,” says Greg Dugan, who has owned the Coca-Cola facility with his wife, Stephanie Cornay Dugan, since 2001. The Dugans currently use the building for fabrication and storage for their company ASCO Window Coverings, located a few blocks away in the La Place neighborhood. Dugan declined to comment further but says more information on the deal will be available by early next week.
Dewitt “Zeen” David of NAI Latter & Blum confirms that a sale is pending on the Less Pay property but also declined further comment, citing a confidentiality agreement. David is the listing agent for the Less Pay Motel, which is owned by M&L International LLC, according to Louisiana secretary of state records.
Why this matters: The Less Pay Motel has been an albatross of sorts for Four Corners, a historic intersection that once was a bustling city center. Plans for redevelopment of the site, which at one time envisioned a police precinct under former Mayor Joey Durel, have faltered over the last decade. Mayor Joel Robideaux quashed Durel’s plan upon taking office, saying he preferred to see the property moved into private commerce. A successful redevelopment could be transformative for Four Corners and the University Avenue corridor. Robideaux has made University Avenue a signature development project for his administration, although Dugan notes that he and his wife have been working to redevelop the Coca Cola building since before the Robideaux administration’s initiative began. Dugan says he believes they’ve found the right buyer to realize a revitalizing vision for the neighborhood.
“We’d be very enthusiastic to see that site moved in commerce,” says Robideaux.
Additional reporting by Leslie Turk
Trump and LAGOP formally back Higgins’ re-election, spurred by Rudy Giuliani’s earlier endorsement of challenger Josh Guillory
▸ The gist: Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a top surrogate and personal attorney for President Trump, stirred up national palace intrigue when he endorsed upstart Republican challenger Josh Guillory’s run against incumbent Rep. Clay Higgins. In response, Trump and the Louisiana GOP officially endorsed Higgins. Giuliani made an appearance in Lafayette this week to raise funds for Guillory
▸ Love and war: Giuliani’s connection to Guillory is Republican fundraiser Jennifer LeBlanc, who’s been romantically linked to Giuliani in some national headlines. LeBlanc works on Guillory’s campaign. Both LeBlanc and Giuliani have downplayed the nature of their relationship and its influence in courting Giuliani to Guillory’s camp. LeBlanc was a fundraiser for Giuliani’s failed presidential bid in 2008. It’s worth noting that LeBlanc previously worked for Higgins but jumped ship, landing with Guillory.
▸ What’s the difference anyway? Both Guillory and Higgins stump as conservative Republicans. Guillory’s campaign planks align squarely with conservative talking points about government overreach and fiscal responsibility. Here’s an exact quote from his page:
“Over the years, the federal government has grown to a now unstable point. At this time in our history, we, the American people, must do something or we will implode.”
Rephrase that passage with the flourish of the King James Bible and you’d have Clay Higgins.
Conservative gadfly Scott McKay has downplayed the divided loyalties, but no doubt that narrative will foam over if Guillory’s bid, currently pegged as a longshot, ultimately presents a formidable challenge to the heavily funded and institutionally-backed Higgins.
Guillory is running on character. In a wide-ranging interview with The Bayou Brief, he openly questioned Higgins’ commitment to conservative fiscal responsibility and positioned himself as a compassionate answer to Higgins’ “lightning rod” divisiveness. In a twist of political theater, Guillory appears to be positioning himself as an outsider to Higgins’ inside man. A young attorney and a vet, he has the Romney coif of a genetic Republican. (I mean that as a compliment, if you’re reading, Josh.) With no track record in politics, he’s a clean slate with, thus far, none of the colorful personal baggage towed around by Higgins. The incumbent spent the first year of his freshman term making headlines for staging a publicity stunt in a concentration camp and threatening his constituents on Facebook. Since then, his messaging has sobered up, for the most part. No doubt Higgins’ snafus will resurface during the campaign as a way of contrasting otherwise similar candidates. It’s tough to beat an incumbent, unless he beats himself.
▸ The gist: Snuck in among some more contentious items on last week’s agenda, a complete streets policy for LCG was formally adopted by the City-Parish Council. The resolution aligns local transportation policy with state and regional codes and will guide transportation and development efforts to include more bike, pedestrian and transit access.
▸ What’s a complete street?A complete street is a thoroughfare that provides equal access to all modes of transportation. To wit: LCG’s own complete streets vision: The desired outcome of the Complete Streets Policy is to create an equitable, balanced and effective transportation system where every roadway user can travel safely and comfortably, and where transportation options are available to everyone.
Proponents view complete streets policies as a means of refocusing city development on people instead of cars. Transportation projects designed to meet complete street guidelines include facilities for bike riders, pedestrians and transit passengers from the get go, rather than as retrofits. Complete streets policies have proliferated in the last two decades. The National Complete Streets Coalition boasts 1,200 complete streets policies adopted nationwide (I briefly worked for Smart Growth America, the parent organization for NCSC). Both DOTD and the Lafayette Metropolitan Planning Organization have complete streets policies on the books.
Lafayette’s efforts to add bike lanes and pedestrian facilities to roadways have not been without controversy. Bike lane projects on W. Bayou Parkway and Moss Street spurred grassroots opposition among nearby constituents. For opponents, accommodating bike traffic is a waste of money that should go to widening or fixing existing roadways.
One important component in the LCG policy is its emphasis on creating a linked network. Today, Lafayette’s bike and pedestrian pathways are laid out in often baffling and dangerous scatterplots. A policy framework to connect a piecemeal network would, theoretically, increase use and help ease car traffic. People aren’t going to bike if they can’t bike anywhere safely and conveniently.
▸ OK. Bike lanes. I get it. What’s the big deal? Over time, a complete streets policy in Lafayette could be transformative. PlanLafayette, Lafayette’s comprehensive plan, already includes some complete streets language, but a formally adopted policy drives the philosophy deep into the asphalt. The language in LCG’s policy directs inter-agency cooperation among LUS, Public Works, and Development and Planning and emphasizes early inclusion of active transportation facilities — the wonky catchall term for bike lanes, sidewalks and transit lines — in projects across consolidated government’s jurisdiction.
Like anything else, though, this is about money. Aligning with the MPO’s and DOTD’s complete streets policies can expedite projects that meet the guidelines and requirements spelled out by those organizations. Melanie Bordelon, the Lafayette MPO manager, says complete streets projects will score higher in the regional planning agency’s rating system, meaning roadway projects that include bike lanes or sidewalks and so on could be prioritized. That would potentially give LCG projects an edge in competing for federal and state dollars distributed by the MPO.
“It helps to ensure that we also look at pedestrian, bicycle and transit users as projects are developed,” Bordelon says. “That’s not always been true in the past.”
▸ The gist: Dyer announced Tuesday that he will officially leave DDA this August to take a private sector job in Calgary, Canada. DDA will also fill three board vacancies at that time.
▸ Why this matters: Downtown Lafayette has struggled to build momentum over the last decade, but not for any lack of effort or expense. Dyer succeeded Nathan Norris — who actually recruited Dyer to Lafayette during his time as CEO — after Norris resigned in 2016, holding the post for 16 months, beginning first as an interim CEO and easing his way into the position without much fanfare. Dyer continued to pursue an urbanist approach to Downtown development. He played a key role in lobbying for changes to the district’s bar moratorium and recently won council approval to introduce streetside dining Downtown. DDA Board Chairman Pat Trahan says he is disappointed but not shocked by Dyer’s departure, saying that Dyer is a talent in high demand nationally.
“It can seem a little disconcerting,” Trahan says. “At the same time, we’ve got a Downtown Action Plan that’s well thought out and a new zoning code that makes a lot of sense.”
▸ The rule of threes: Dyer is the third urbanist-minded talent to leave a politically influential development post for greener pastures. Former LCG Development and Planning Director Carlee Alm-LaBar officially began her new job at Southern Lifestyle Development this week, ending her eight-year run in consolidated government. One Acadiana’s Harry Weiss, who ran the chamber’s urban revitalization efforts, took a public sector job in Oregon. Different circumstances influenced each departure, but it’s hard not to read the cluster of resignations as something of a trend, and a dismaying one at that. Agree or disagree with their work, Dyer, Alm-LaBar and Weiss were the kind of dynamic, forward-thinking leaders that just years ago were attracted to positions of influence in Lafayette. Lafayette’s magnetism appears to be waning.
▸ What to watch for: Downtown leadership turnover. DDA will seat three new board members and a new CEO. Trahan, Donald Broussard and Bryant Poché will term out on the board this August. The search for a new CEO could straddle the board changeover. That’s a challenge or an opportunity, depending on how you look at it. New blood could invigorate the organization with the energy needed to finally unfreeze Downtown’s residential development deadlock.
“We need to be able to push through and usher in some development,” Trahan says. “That’s one of the reasons the old federal courthouse is so important.”
Nearly 12 years after the Schools of Choice program helped LPSS escape federal scrutiny, the same program is at the center of a federal lawsuit alleging manipulation and exclusionary practices.
The gist: The council did not introduce or discuss any deconsolidation on Tuesday, but there’s still one more council meeting before the deadline to get a measure on the Dec. 8 ballot. Keep your eyes peeled on July 10.
Wait. What do you mean by deconsolidation? Generally speaking, deconsolidation means separating the government functions of the parish and city of Lafayette. Right now, the city and parish have one council, one mayor-president and share several government agencies. That’s the way it’s been since the 1990s.
The catch is that only the city of Lafayette and the unincorporated parts of the parish are actually consolidated (as gadfly Andy Hebert points out routinely at council meetings). All the other municipalities in the parish opted out of consolidation. They have their own councils, their own mayors, their own government functions. Meanwhile, city-parish councilmen represent districts that include constituents in the other municipalities. That means, effectively, that a voter in Scott has impact on decisions that affect the city of Lafayette — say, how LUS operates or spends its money — but not vice versa. To a lot of folks, that’s just not fair, nor does it seem to be working out. Consolidation was conceived to fix the parish budget. The parish budget is still broke.
Now, with parish general fund sniffing the bottom and voters in the parish and city pursuing different priorities, a renewed urgency to overhaul consolidation has arisen. The failure of this year’s library tax renewal exposed that value divide clearly: City voters voted to renew the taxes. Parish voters voted against it.
More than likely, there won’t be a push for a complete divorce of the two sides of Lafayette government, but rather the creation of separate councils. I guess it’s more of a trial separation. In that scenario, Lafayette would obtain its own city council and more control over its assets and finances, but there would remain one mayor-president for the parish, and the two jurisdictions would continue to share services like the Public Works Department.
Seems like a no brainer to me! Well, maybe. There are a lot of thorny and unmapped paths to walk through to get this done. First, what would the maps look like? Redistricting of any sort would tend to get politically dicey. Second, does this actually do anything to fix the unincorporated parish budget? Not really. Deconsolidation dodges that problem altogether. To wit, Councilman Theriot, who does not support the idea of creating separate city and parish councils: “If we were to split, the unincorporated parish would be nothing,” he says. Third, there’s an argument that simply adding a new council for the city of Lafayette doesn’t go far enough. Many of the convolutions would remain problematic, particularly in how the priorities of the mayor-president align with the often competing interests of the parish and city he represents. Maybe a full divorce is what we really need.
Creating a new fire district for the unincorporated parish is another proxy battle about consolidated government
The gist: The council moved one step closer toward creating a new fire district for unincorporated areas of Lafayette Parish. If the boundaries are adopted at the next council meeting, that would likely mean a new millage appearing on the ballot to fund fire services in the area.
Some background: Unincorporated residents don’t have a fire department, so the parish contracts with municipal fire departments to respond to fires in rural Lafayette Parish. Consolidated government has reduced payments to municipal fire departments to rein in spending out of the parish’s nearly depleted general fund. That arrangement has begun to stress the budgets of municipal fire departments; the cost to the municipal fire departments reportedly exceeds the revenue taken in by those contracts. Scott’s Fire Department reportedly saw payments drop from roughly $150,000 annually to $50,000. Councilman Kevin Naquin warns that the fire rating for the unincorporated parish could go up if no action is taken to shore up the shoddy service in the district. That would lead to higher fire insurance premiums for the area, figures Naquin says would greatly outstrip the cost of new taxes in the district.
We learned that Kevin Naquin’s house is worth $275,000. To illustrate the cost discrepancy, Naquin put his insurance plan on the council chamber’s projector screen. Naquin lives in unincorporated Lafayette. Insurance premiums for his home, valued at $275,000, would increase by $4,000 if the unincorporated area fire rating goes from its current Class 5 to Class 7. No millage has been officially suggested just yet. But Naquin floated that a 7-mill property tax funding the new district would cost him $150 a year.
“Spend your money on insurance and you choose to do nothing,” Naquin said. “Ask the insurance company to put your house [fire] out.”
What if the parish disappeared? Councilman William Theriot, ever skeptical of council money grabs, prodded the introductory fire district ordinance for its lack of details and for falling short of solving the problem. Theriot argued that as annexation continues, the newly created fire district would shrink, thereby continuing to diminish the tax base for the fire district. For the second time this year, Theriot proposed a solution that’s not new but is nonetheless radical: divvy up the unincorporated parish and absorb it into each municipality. That’s a concept championed by former Mayor Joey Durel during his tenure.
“This seems to be the only viable solution,” Theriot told me in an phone interview. His idea is provisional, though he believes it’s got legs. That’s one idea to fix the unincorporated parish: Make it disappear.
The gist: At Tuesday’s council meeting, Sheriff Mark Garber gave an overview and explanation of a new parishwide sales tax he intends to put on the Dec. 8 ballot. As proposed, the tax would generate $38 million annually to fund new law enforcement personnel both for the sheriff’s office and for the Lafayette Police Department. Garber was summoned to the council amid criticism that he had failed to apprise the body of his plans.
“We weren’t ready to come to you before,” Garber told the council. He complained that news of his plan got out faster than he intended — by way of Claire Taylor at The Daily Advertiser — forcing him to play catch up with a speeding newscycle. That explanation appears to have mollified several frustrated councilmen who had complained that Garber left them out of the loop on a decision that impacts the city police department, a body they oversee. Garber turned over draft ballot language to the council at the meeting, asking the councilmen not to share it with the media, given that the proposal isn’t finalized. It’s not clear what parts in the ballot aren’t full baked. The Current obtained a copy of the ballot language — a public record, by way of its transmittal to the council — which you can view here. Garber indicated that a final version of the measure will be ready this summer, with a major campaign to follow from a PAC created to support the effort.
So what’s in the plan? As written, Garber’s proposal would create a permanent three quarters of a cent sales tax assessed parishwide: that is everywhere in the parish, inclusive of all municipalities. Garber wants to add 45 more deputies, pay down $37 million in debt and accumulate enough dollars to create a one-year operating reserve fund for the sheriff’s office. He’d accomplish that with about $23 million in annual revenue generated by the tax. The sheriff indicated that he would roll back an existing property tax that funds his office after he reaches that fund balance. However, the ballot measure does not hold him legally to that promise.
Sales tax collected in the city of Lafayette, half of the three-quarter cent rate, would go to the Lafayette Police Department, generating an estimated $15 million each year. That would nearly double LPD’s roughly $20 million annual budget.
“Not everybody understands my power as the sheriff to go before the voters unilaterally,” Garber said in his address. “I’m not asking the council tonight to adopt any resolution or to vote in favor of it. I’m here before the council because all of you represent voters in this parish. Voters who are my voters.”
What to watch for: Whether the administration or the council backs the sheriff’s plan. Thus far, Garber has not won official support from the city side of the deal. Mayor Joel Robideaux has not indicated, up or down, his position on the sales tax. He has not responded to requests for comment, although a sheriff’s spokesman confirmed Robideaux and the sheriff discussed the tax last week. The Lafayette Police Association, the local police union, supports Garber’s measure. The group’s tactics recently angered some city-parish councilmen who accused the union of using scare tactics to get the sheriff’s tax passed.
Councilman Jay Castille, who dismissed the union’s claims that the department is understaffed, said after the meeting last night that Garber’s presentation answered many but not all of his concerns. The specifics of the intergovernmental agreement have yet to be hammered out. That would require council approval.
Homeowners continue to await drainage work promised in a tax rededication passed last year. The work is not a fix; it’s a Bandaid.
Film industry workers have been settling into Lafayette recently, lured largely by state tax incentives, city assistance and the rich cultural and artistic milieu of Lafayette.
▸ The gist: It’s been a long and strange journey, but Artmosphere’s regulatory limbo is now over. The council voted to allow the popular Downtown venue to operate as a bar rather than a restaurant.
▸ Some background: Artmosphere, in a sense, is the poster child for Downtown’s tribulations associated with a 15-year-old moratorium on new bars in the district. The venue has operated for years on a restaurant’s liquor license, running afoul of regulations that require a restaurant’s food to make up more than 50 percent of its sales. Recently, Downtown officials and advocates have lobbied for an end to the moratorium, which they say created a monopoly for existing bars and grossly distorted the real estate market.
▸ “Have we now lifted the moratorium on bars Downtown?” Councilman William Theriot asked Mayor Joel Robideaux from across the council’s crescent desk. “Certainly, I would say the moratorium was lifted at a previous council meeting,” the mayor replied, indicating the official end of the practice was the creation of the conditional use permit itself.
▸ Can you spell C-U-P? In his interrogative with the mayor, Theriot referred to the new permit class as a “cup,” as in something you drink out of. Opening a new bar Downtown? Now you need to go to the city and get a cup.
▸ What to watch for: Yes, this is the visible end of the moratorium, but it’s hardly an opening of the flood gates. Artmosphere’s case continues to illustrate the effort required to crack the still-standing limitations on new bar licenses Downtown. Councilman Pat Lewis, who in May voted against putting the permit up for a final vote, amended the permit to stipulate that, among other things, Artmosphere must serve food when operating and must operate five days a week.
“I congratulate her for being persistent. She was very persistent,” Lewis said at the meeting. “You can ask the owner. I made it very difficult for her. It’s not just a rubber stamp.”
An impassioned appeal failed to stop a controversial car dealership project in a flood-prone neighborhood
▸ The gist: Residents in a neighborhood hard hit in the 2016 floods appealed the approval of plats for a new car dealership parking lot that cuts deep into a mostly residential area. Despite an emotional plea, the City-Parish Council denied the appeal.
▸ A little background: The site in question was rezoned in January, on recommendation of the city’s planning department, from agricultural to commercial heavy to allow the project to go forward. Tuesday’s appeal targeted approval of the project’s preliminary and final plats. Exasperated, residents of the Canberra neighborhood described the long shot appeal as their last stand.
▸ What’s the big deal? Canberra residents report that stormwaters have risen in the last decade or so due to rapid development, in particular several car dealerships that have popped up along south Johnston Street and South City Parkway. The primary concern is that a new parking lot — reportedly seven acres of new concrete — will overmatch the area’s drainage coulee, which residents say can’t handle any more runoff. It is odd that the development got the green light given the widespread recognition of the relationship between expanding concrete and Lafayette’s drainage problems. Beyond drainage, they say the lot will be a nuisance, an eyesore and will tank property values. “Will you buy my house?” a resident shouted at the council from the back row.
▸ A stunning silence: After hearing testimony from enraged residents for an hour, the council sat in a loud silence. A vote requires a motion, and reluctance to make one in the face of seething anger settled on the councilmen. Councilman William Theriot awkwardly broke the spell, set the vote in motion and cast the only vote in support of the appeal. Residents applauded him and castigated Liz Hebert, their district representative.
▸ What to watch for: This still isn’t quite over. Developer Fabre Realty will next produce a drainage impact analysis to be approved by the city. A wrinkle in this story is that the developer faces new drainage regulations that require the lot to reduce runoff rate in the area by 15 percent of the pre-development rate, not an easy feat for seven acres of concrete. Earlier this year, the developer told The Advocate that he didn’t yet know how much it would cost to comply with the new drainage regs. The lot represents a test of the city’s regulatory approach to solving the ongoing drainage crisis.