Deadlines set for redevelopment of old federal courthouse

▸ The gist: Come Dec. 31, 2020, the old federal courthouse on Jefferson Street will be the site of a 68-unit apartment complex and 25,500 square feet of commercial space, along with a pool, clubhouse and common areas.

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▸ That’s the substantial completion date (certified by the architect) laid out in the terms of an ordinance scheduled for introduction to the City-Parish Council Sept. 18 with final adoption on Oct. 16. If the development team, Place de Lafayette and Weinstein Nelson Developers — doesn’t meet that deadline, it will face penalties of $10,000 a month, according to the ordinance, and even stiffer penalties, $25,000 per month, if it does not commence construction at the 2-acre site by July 1 of 2019. 

▸ Pending council approval, the long-vacant eyesore will be sold to the development group for the appraised price of $1.4 million, money that will be deposited into an escrow account and used by the city for environmental remediation and sewer upgrades. According to The Advocate, developers must cover the first $75,000 for removal of asbestos and any other hazardous materials, and they have the right to terminate the agreement if the city does not pay costs exceeding that amount. Lafayette Utilities System is planning $7 million in sewer upgrades over the next several years, which should address some of the pressing issues of sewer capacity Downtown, but the ordinance calls for the city to reimburse developers for any city-approved sewer work they might need to undertake.

▸ The impact: The project, which includes the adjoining old police department building on Jefferson Street and former AOC offices on E. Main Street, is of immense importance to redevelopment efforts Downtown. It will bring the first major residential component to the city’s core, a potential catalyst for more residential construction in the coming years. It’s also a signature accomplishment for City-Parish President Joel Robideaux, who is poised to break through the impasse that has plagued earlier attempts at bringing the spaces back into commerce — namely pushback from a well-connected courthouse crowd insistent on building a new parish courthouse at the site — with a speedy process that put the mayor himself in charge of choosing the development team. Work at the Jefferson Street site will be underway for all to see just as Robideaux is campaigning for re-election to his second term.

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Lafayette’s economy loses more than half a billion dollars in movable property in two years

The gist: Lafayette Parish Tax Assessor Conrad Comeaux has just finished up the latest tax roll, confirming that Lafayette lost hundreds of millions of dollars in movable property since 2015.

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$559 million: That’s the total decrease in movable property in Lafayette from 2015 to 2017.

What does “movable property” mean? Movable property refers to the property owned by businesses other than real estate, things like equipment and inventory.

How big of a deal is this? Compared to the overall value of real and movable property in Lafayette Parish of more than $20 billion, we’re only talking about a loss of a couple of percentage points. But when you look at movable property on its own, the decrease is more like 10 percent. What this means is 10 percent less tax revenue generated by movable property, which adds up to millions of dollars of lost income for Lafayette Consolidated Government, the Lafayette Parish School System, the Lafayette Parish Courthouse, and every other organization that relies on property tax millages to fund their operations.

$10 million: That’s the amount the total assessable value of the property tax roll increased from 2016-2017. The reason for this is that real estate values have continued to hold steady or go up, which has offset the losses in movable property. But even here the numbers don’t look great as the total value of real estate in the parish rose more than $400 million to about $18 billion in total. That means the total residential and commercial real estate values in Lafayette Parish only increased a bit more than 2 percent. On average nationally, commercial property values increased more than 7 percent and residential property values more than 5 percent. Put another way, if real estate values in Lafayette Parish had increased 5 percent instead of 2 percent and if movable property values had just held even, the market value of our property tax roll would be about a billion dollars higher and generating more than $10 million in additional tax revenue for the aforementioned entities.

But this is all just about oil and gas, right? While these trends may have started in oil and gas, they’ve spread throughout Lafayette’s economy as retailers are stocking less inventory and banks are seeing deposits go down. And while the value of real estate has been keeping our heads above water, we’re likely to start seeing that area get hit as well, as vacancy rates are higher in apartment buildings and occupancy rates are lower in hotels, both of which can negatively impact the value of those buildings and therefore put downward pressure on property tax revenues for LCG.

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Incivility in local politics

Despite the negative consequences to incivility in government, there are surprising and often ignored potential fringe benefits.

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Current Calendar 9/12-9/18

This week around Acadiana: Plate Lunchapalooza, the Friends of the Library fall book sale, Battle of the Salons, and more.

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Bending to Bob

“Bending Lines” is a portrait of an eccentric, yet brilliant artist who kept working on his precise, geometric sculptures into his old age as his eyesight and hearing were deteriorating.

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Plate lunch paradise

People from all over Acadiana will come together Saturday, Sept. 15, to celebrate the area’s favorite meal: the plate lunch.

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Liz Hebert’s bus shelter initiative gets rolling

▸ The gist: Councilwoman Liz Hebert launched an effort earlier this year to raise money to cover some of the city’s 600 uncovered bus stops. The council approved a budget line item to receive donations going forward, officially activating the effort.

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▸ 21 bus stops. That’s the number of stops Hebert’s initiative can cover with sponsor money already committed, stacking on top of the LCG dollars budgeted to cover 11 stops each year. The adopt-a-stop effort targets low-hanging fruit, for the most part, stops that can be covered at a cost of $6,000. Individual donors, companies and nonprofits can contribute to a fund housed at the Community Foundation of Acadiana. That money is used to reimburse LCG’s costs to build a shelter on an as-raised basis.

▸ Eight major donors have come forward so far. Islamic Center of Lafayette (the first group to sign up), Unitech Training Academy, CGI, the Pinhook Foundation and the Lafayette Public School System have each sponsored single stops. McDonald’s of Lafayette sponsored three, UL sponsored five and Lafayette General sponsored eight. 

▸ 60 top stops are on Hebert’s target list. Again, that’s the number of stops that can be covered for $6,000, still a small portion of the 600 uncovered stops along Lafayette Transit System bus routes. 

“So many of our team members come from all areas of the city and had to wait in the rain or the sun,” said Lourdes Foundation Executive Director Jeigh Stipe, addressing the council in support of Hebert’s initiative. Lourdes is not yet participating directly in the program, but it connected with a manufacturer through Hebert to cover a stop on Lourdes’ campus. 

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A tax-heavy election season is now set

The gist: The City-Parish Council voted Tuesday to put a new fire protection tax on ballots this fall, the fourth tax added to upcoming elections. The tax joins propositions to create separate city and parish councils and levy a half-cent sales tax to fund the sheriff’s office. 

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▸ $32.9 million in estimated revenue would be raised annually if the tax propositions succeed. The lion’s share of that figure comes from the sheriff’s tax, which is expected to generate $24 million from tax rolls parishwide. A pair of new parish property taxes, funding the district courts and the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, would generate $11.3 million. The fire protection tax, assessed only in the unincorporated portions of the parish, will generate roughly $3.9 million each year.

“I want to see someone put a price tag on a child’s head,” Councilman Jay Castille growled at fellow Councilman William Theriot, one of the measure’s two no votes and Castille’s frequent sparring partner. 

Theriot, acknowledging the need to provide fire services, nonetheless questioned budgeting priorities. “Everybody’s knows there are needs,” Theriot said. “I know we have to have fire protection. But we’ve had people whose homes have flooded several times. We have roads that are turning into gravel roads.”

▸ What to watch for: Collateral damage on the split council proposition. A hot tax season will certainly complicate the push to create separate city and parish councils. Tax-averse conservatives, spearheaded by Facebook page Lafayette Citizens Against Taxes, have opposed the charter amendments and openly questioned the motives behind the substantial change in governance.

Should LCAT successfully mobilize anti-tax sentiment on the Dec. 8 ballot, that could prove troublesome for the split council movement, which recently organized its own political action committee to rally support. Whether conservative groups actively campaign against the charter amendments is yet to be seen, but history shows they don’t have to single the proposition out to tank it. Consider the group’s 2017 fight against a schools sales tax, which took down two millage renewals with it. 

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Arts Beat: 9/5 – 9/11

All the cool stuff you can do in one Lafayette week.

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What can Bernhard’s nuclear past teach us about his LUS future?

A look into Jim Bernhard’s foray into nuclear energy raises questions about his qualifications to run LUS.

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The partners behind Spoonbill. From left to right: Adam Loftin, Jeremy Conner, Stephen Verret.

Spoonbill Watering Hole & Restaurant lands in the old Filling Station

Angling for a fall 2018 opening, a new Downtown concept is ready for the bright neon lights.

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Marshal Pope gets a do-over

▸ The gist: In other words, Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope is not going back to jail — not yet anyway. And he gets two more years to serve a 2-year-old community service order.

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▸ Here’s what happened: District Judge Jules Edwards apologized to Pope in court Wednesday morning. The judge explained that he had mistakenly continued to treat the case — which started out in 2015 as a civil public records lawsuit filed against Pope by The Independent (RIP) — as a civil matter rather than the criminal one it became after Pope defied the judge’s order to turn the records over to the paper. At that time, Edwards held the marshal in criminal contempt of court, an unprecedented finding in a public records case that included more than $100,000 in attorneys fees, court costs and penalties, 30 days in jail (with all but seven suspended) and 173 hours of community service (one for every day Pope withheld the records).

▸ When Pope failed to perform the community service (after repeated second chances), Edwards sent him to jail in February, where he served seven days before appealing the sentence. Earlier this month, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal remanded the case to Edwards to correct the mistake, noting community service can’t be a penalty for criminal contempt of court. So Edwards simply reimposed the original 30-day sentence and suspended it, giving Pope credit for time served. Community service is now a condition of his unsupervised probation — he has to teach 173 hours of public records courses or pick up trash for that many hours — and Pope has another two years to complete it. If he doesn’t, it’s back to the slammer.

▸ Pope’s legal woes are far from over, although he can breathe a sigh of relief for a short spell. The city marshal’s criminal trial on charges of malfeasance in office and perjury, a total of seven counts stemming from the public records dispute, begins Sept. 24. 

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