Downtown Lafayette, LA — Advisory Services Panel

Date: June 25 – 30, 2017

Location: Lafayette, LA

Sponsor: Lafayette Consolidated Government

Subject Area: Resilience, downtown redevelopment, mixed-use development, economic development and revitalization, flooding and stormwater management

Panel Chair: Tom Murphy, Senior Resident Fellow, Klingbeil Family Chair for Urban Development, Urban Land Institute

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Background and Panel Assignment

nuanced-flooding-parking-lotFollowing a devastating flood in 2016, the City of Lafayette, Louisiana was left with severely damaged suburban areas and faced many follow up challenges with flooding and stormwater management. Seeking a sustainable future plan for development, the City expressed a strong desire to prioritize infill and redevelopment in the downtown. Although the downtown has experienced a recent economic decline, the area is located on higher elevation, which reduces the likelihood of destructive flooding. The City of Lafayette invited ULI to conduct a Resilience Advisory Services Panel to examine the opportunities for redevelopment, as well as encourage catalytic mixed-use and residential development in the city’s urban core. Specifically, the panel identified financial tools and policies to implement these more resilient land use and water management strategies.

The ULI panel was asked to respond to the following questions:

  • What are financing strategies that could be used to support mixed-use/residential projects in the urban core area? What investments should the public sector take on to support redevelopment?
  • What are some infill incentives that the Lafayette Consolidated Government could use to level the playing field for Downtown residential and, what are the current policy and regulatory barriers to infill?
  • What design, finance, procurement and parking strategies could be used for the three opportunity sites to encourage downtown residential development and create momentum for others to build from?
  • What is the impact to the city and parish tax base for Downtown redevelopment/revitalization, both as a whole and from key sites?
  • What are tactical small – scale interventions that could soften barriers to Downtown from the south, west, and rest so that residents in those areas could take advantage of proximity to Downtown and the University
  • How can recommendations fold into policy documents such as the CDBG plan update and other documents? Lafayette’s Downtown Zoning District already has a form-based code.
  • How can a revitalized downtown fit into a broader resilient land use strategy and how can future planning processes broadly consider resilience in environmental, community and economic terms?
  • What are the infrastructure deficiencies related to supporting additional residents downtown, and how should that growth be planned for?
  • What types of policies could ensure better preparedness for future storm events such as the 2016 Flooding, as well as concentrate development in areas less susceptible to these environmental vulnerabilities?

Implement organizational changes that ensure neighborhood leaders have a seat at the table.  A strategy for downtown needs to include and engage its surrounding neighborhoods. Each with unique characters and strong communities, La Place, McComb Veazey, Freetown-Port-Rico, and Saint Streets are four downtown-adjacent neighborhoods that are critical to the success of downtown. These neighborhood residents are both invested in the area, and are most likely to become future customers, business owners or employees in downtown businesses. The panel recommends creating a staffed community development corporation serving all adjacent neighborhoods to identify opportunities for development in the communities’ interest and physically develop areas that are underinvested. In addition, the City of Lafayette should also create the role of a Neighborhood Services Director, to oversee and engage these neighborhoods in planning processes, collecting resources and creating effective support programs such as a hosting a community summit.

Embrace catalytic projects and seek opportunities to engage in public private partnerships. The City of Lafayette has a number of available, high-profile sites for developing potential downtown anchors. Each of these sites presents the opportunity to attract residential and commercial development, entice new companies to move into the downtown area, and support or create cultural assets specific to Lafayette.  To attract developers, the city needs to offer incentives and partnership opportunities to the private sector, mitigating financial and political risks as well as achieving key public objectives such as downtown revitalization, housing, commercial development, and neighborhood services.

Focus on fundamentals to attract investment. At its core, Lafayette’s downtown must be clean, safe, and accessible to support the goal of it becoming a mixed-use hub of Lafayette. While downtown Lafayette has abundant assets including charming architecture, restaurants, retail, and a major university nearby, residential development is noticeably missing. To advance a downtown development strategy, the panel recommended undertaking aggressive code enforcement to address vacant and underutilized buildings, coupled with a building façade improvement grants to encourage renovation. Safety and the perception of safety can also be increased through investments in adequate lighting along side streets and parking areas, and a proactive nightlight management plan. During the day, attractive and legible wayfinding signage will increase traffic to downtown businesses.

Promote Lafayette’s unique character through marketing and public programming that will differentiate the downtown and foster vibrancy. Highly-successful festivals and a celebrated food culture currently draw locals and visitors to downtown Lafayette. In addition to these festivals, the downtown should enhance the streetscape by incorporating interactive public art, such as creative and unique lighting installations, and incorporate regular programming like sporting events and food truck festivals. The panel also recommended promoting downtown’s unique identity through marketing materials that are prevalent and updated regularly, like websites, podcasts, and social media accounts.

Build resilience into everyday development practices and make investments to better manage water in both catalytic and routine events.  Sparked by the devastating flooding in 2016, Lafayette residents become increasingly concerned about flooding. With increased frequency of storms, the abundance of impervious surface, and continued development in flood prone areas, stormwater management continues to be a problem for both major events and routine, “sunny day” flooding.  The panel recommends that the city of Lafayette to allocate yearly funding by introducing a stormwater fee to finance stormwater management best practices, such as green infrastructure and low impact development techniques, and invest in parks and open spaces. Another important initiative is a public outreach campaign targeting to the owners of repetitive loss properties.

Put plans into action by aligning responsibility with authority and set realistic expectations. While city officials and staffers have numerous plans in place to revitalize the downtown area, it is unclear the role of the private sector investor plays in implementing these plans. The panel observed a potential duplication of services amongst the public sector and downtown development groups, and recommends determining the division of duties amongst players and creating an executive-level, city a position that works with private sector players to navigate available resources and avoid conflicting visions. Alongside new resources and partnership opportunities, strong leadership to evaluate difficult decisions is necessary to advance the vision for downtown.

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