January 27, 2023 9:00am

Downtown Lafayette is key to the economy, most Power Poll voters say; They also have other ideas

Respondents listed parking as downtown's biggest issue

Photo of Adam Daigle
Lafayette, LA Correspondent
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There’s little room for dispute: Acadiana Power Poll voters are big fans of downtown Lafayette.

The level of vibrancy in the city’s historic core is at a level no one has seen in years. And 2023 could end up being a transformative year for downtown with the projects that are in the works: an undisclosed tenant is planning to move into the old Dat Dog building, major construction will begin on the former Don’s Seafood building and one of downtown’s oldest buildings is under contract to be sold.

So all that — on top of 2022, which was the year old federal courthouse was finally converted into apartments — do you believe in downtown Lafayette?

An overwhelming majority of Power Poll respondents indicated they do. Asked how vital downtown is to the economy of the city and the region, 61% described it as vital while another 27% noted it was “pretty important.”

The numbers make for a strong argument. It’s now home to 200 residential units with another 295 planned, 90% office space occupancy in six towers and 5,500 employees on weekdays. It’s the home for restaurants, bars, banks, museums, theaters, civic buildings and organizations.

It’s also a place to be, respondents noted. When asked how often they visit downtown, 33% indicated a couple times a week, while another 22% come every day since they work or live downtown and 40% indicated they come less frequently. Only 4% responded they very rarely go downtown.

“It has been exciting and humbling to witness the passion for downtown so many in our community have displayed over the past few years,” DDA CEO Anita Begnaud wrote. “I truly believe this area is critical to the retention and attraction of talented people in our community. It’s our city, parish and region’s heartbeat.”

Wrote E.J. Krampe, one of the developers behind The Lofts at The Municipal: “Downtown holds one of the keys to Lafayette's future. The more downtown's work, entertainment and residential offerings grow, the more we will be able to attract and keep our young people in this community.”

But like anything else, there’s room for downtown to grow and improve. This month’s poll did not address the connectedness of downtown to other areas of the city, but respondents raised the issue: while downtown — which spans a mere two square miles — is a popular place in Lafayette, there are opportunities to connect it with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, surrounding neighborhoods and other areas.

Downtown is headed in the right direction, wrote Pablo Estrada, president of the Asociacion Cultural Latino-Acadiana, but it has limitations.

“There is an evident lack of interaction with surrounding neighborhoods and communities,” he wrote. “We cannot expect for people to continue to want to spend dollars inside of the magic of downtown while alienating what’s outside of it. Let’s work together to offer more surrounding the beautiful concept of downtown Lafayette. Paint and polish only go so far when the outskirts are falling apart or have not been taken into consideration to begin with.’’

Wrote Christiaan Mader, editor and founder of The Current Media: “What it needs is better connection to neighboring population centers like UL, Freetown, the Saint Streets and Fightinville to activate more commerce. Lafayette made a conscious decision in the mid-20th century to wrap a moat of expanded roadways around its central business district. Take note of Johnston, University and Congress. Repairing that connectivity would be a powerful catalyst.”

The poll did offer eight categories of improvement and asked respondents to rank them. Parking and the inability to find a spot scored the highest average at 4.68 among the choices and also was the choice that got listed No. 1 the most.

Other issues resonating with voters were ranked like this:

  • I hear about too much crime (4.64)
  • There are lots of homeless people downtown (4.58)
  • There is no large green space like you find in other cities (4.46)
  • It’s hard to find a hotel room nearby (3.9)
  • There are no public bathrooms (3.5)
  • The area does not have places or businesses that interest me (3.3)
  • Too much litter on the sidewalks (2.5)

“As a member of the Acadiana community, and frequent visitor of large metropolitans we often compare ourselves to, I believe it is extremely important that our whole region rally together to support downtown Lafayette,” wrote Anne Falgout, director of stratetic communications with South Louisiana Community College.

“I have heard it time and time again — from communities that rank higher than us, have the ability to attract more talent and are meccas for thriving industry — downtown atmosphere and vibrancy are huge factors in a community’s success.”

Speaking of that parking topic, respondents were posed this question: if you’re, say, dining at a restaurant in downtown Lafayette and can’t find a spot near the door, how many blocks are you willing to walk before you give up and go somewhere else?

About 2/3 of them said they would walk at least three blocks, while 25% said only two blocks. Only 4% said they would walk only one block.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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