OPINION: Continuing downtown development crucial to economic growth
Lafayette is rich in culture, food and music, but is lacking in the downtown experience. It has events like Downtown Alive!, ArtWalk and various 5Ks, but is lacking in appropriate parking accommodations and doesn’t have many options for living spaces.
The epicenter of Lafayette has a very trendy and artsy vibe, which is perfect for aspiring artists, entrepreneurs and travelers. It also has a huge emphasis on shopping at local businesses to promote the community. It really is a great place for free-thinking, friendly people and good times. The potential for downtown Lafayette is astronomical because the heritage is unlike any other in the country.
Downtown Lafayette Unlimited and the Lafayette city-parish government started drafting plans to revamp the downtown area in 2014, but since then, there hasn’t been much talking. Some of the ideas centered around expanding the downtown area into the surrounding areas like Freetown, the Saints Streets, McComb and LaPlace. This will give downtown the ability to grow the number of local businesses and start building apartments. Downtown’s location is great because it is within walking distance from the university, so students can take a break from the books and experience Lafayette.
The expansion of places such as Rue Jefferson will also mean environmental improvement, more tourism opportunities, healthy living and economic development. By having places that are within walking distance, the city creates less need to drive around. This would reduce carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere. This also gives people a healthy way of living by walking and biking.
Any time people travel, they want to see what the nightlife and downtown life is like, so having a vibrant downtown is essential for tourism and recruiting people to live in a city. Lafayette needs to find ways in improving its economy because the oil industry isn’t stable enough to keep its citizens working.
When citizens are stagnant and have nothing to do, they move away. A lot of these citizens are the recent graduates from the university, which is horrible because graduates are Lafayette’s future. These students are Lafayette’s progress, but they can’t stay because there are no job opportunities, and there is not much to the downtown area. People want a social life that is fun and exciting, so they go downtown to find that extra spice in life. It is imperative that the area is revamped in the next 10-20 years or else the city may never recover from the loss of talent.
Another issue is that Lafayette continues to grow outward instead of upward. One of the best parts of Lafayette is the amount of trees, parks and nature walks. If Lafayette continues to build outward, there is a chance that these green spaces will become the next Walgreens or Raising Canes. Lafayette needs taller buildings to hold businesses, apartments and other economically developing organizations. Louisiana is “sportsman’s paradise,” so Lafayette needs to use that to its advantage when developing the city.
The character of downtown has a very homey feel with French and Spanish influence. It is the pinnacle of culture and what people crave. People want to walk in a city and feel the history in the air. The buildings in downtown need to encompass these characteristics to continue this feeling of heritage.
The potential of downtown Lafayette is incredible; we just need to continue the conversation about how to develop it.