Lafayette City-Parish President candidates Joel Robideaux and Dee Stanley fielded questions focusing primarily on downtown and surrounding neighborhoods during a forum Wednesday.
The event was hosted by Downtown Lafayette and the coteries of Freetown-Port Rico, LaPlace and McComb-Veazey neighborhoods, which provided questions to the candidates in advance.
Stanley has been the Lafayette Consolidated Government chief administrative officer for 12 years under the administration of current City-Parish President Joey Durel.
Robideaux has been a state representative serving Lafayette in the Legislature, including time as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Durel is term-limited and cannot seek re-election. Qualifying is Sept. 8-10. The election is Oct. 24.
Downtown vs. suburban investment
Asked about the long-standing practice of investing tax dollars on infrastructure for subdivisions in suburban areas, Stanley said LCG must be careful not to isolate communities and subdivisions.
“They have a right to be stuck in traffic, too,” he said.
The new comprehensive plan is the community’s guidebook on where and how to build in order to make the most of tax dollars and existing infrastructure, Stanley said. He wants to be the leader to execute that plan.
Robideaux said 60,000 new people are expected in Lafayette in coming decades and they won’t all fit in downtown Lafayette. It’s a balancing act between encouraging infill development and accommodating growth outside the urban core, he said.
Downtown Lafayette needs more residential development, but other projects like expanding Verot School and Kaliste Saloom roads and building a new bridge over the Vermilion River need attention, too, Robideaux said.
Crime in McComb-Veazey
Robideaux said LCG needs more community policing in high-crime neighborhoods, with police building relationships with various people who frequent the streets at different times of the day. He said he’s working on a platform on how to address the problem.
“We already have a platform for community safety,” Stanley replied.
He worked with Councilman Kenneth Boudreaux to address the problem and already is working to get officers on the streets in high-crime areas communicating with residents. LCG also is equipping its police force with the latest technology, tools and equipment, Stanley said.
Downtown bar moratorium
A 12-year moratorium on the number of bars allowed downtown would not be lifted without safeguards if he were elected, Stanley said.
When the council limited the number of bars downtown, it did so with a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel at the request of Downtown Development to stop the proliferation of bars and allow residential and mixed-use development, he said.
It doesn’t make sense 12 years later to completely lift the moratorium because the result might be what the moratorium sought to prevent for 12 years, he said.
“I don’t think anyone wants Jefferson Street to become a Bourbon Street,” Robideaux said.
But the existing moratorium is illogical, he said. The moratorium is tied to the property so that, if a bar or club is closed, another one must open in that building within a year or it can never be a bar or club again.
Parish, old federal courthouses
The candidates were asked if the city should sell the downtown property where the old federal courthouse is on the corner of Jefferson and Main streets, reserving funds to buy property elsewhere at a later time for a new parish courthouse.
Those in the legal community have been looking for a solution to the need for a new parish courthouse for a long time, Robideaux said, calling it one of the biggest, most controversial issues in the city.
But it will take a Herculean effort from elected officials to move the project forward and it will cost millions of tax dollars that must be approved by voters, he said.
Without buy-in from the downtown authority and legal community, Robideaux said he would not push for selling the old federal courthouse property without first having land for a new parish courthouse.
Stanley said he and Durel in 2004 stopped construction of a seven-story lean-to addition to the existing parish courthouse. LCG couldn’t afford it, plus it was going to be attached to a decaying old building, he said.
A previous City-Parish Council authorized LCG to sell the old federal courthouse, Stanley said. The Lafayette Economic Development Authority offered up to $1 million to clear the property, but a new council was elected and stopped the project.
Now, the interior of the parish courthouse is being renovated. When a new courthouse is built, the existing building can be used as an annex, Stanley said. Durel put $1.5 million in the budget to tear down the old federal courthouse so it can be used for mixed-use development and officials are looking for property downtown to build a new parish courthouse, he said.
Ten years have passed since the initial design for the elevated I-49 Connector through Lafayette was drawn up, Stanley said.
There are major communities that have built elevated freeways in such a way that the area underneath and around them didn’t become blighted and empty. Lafayette needs to make sure those successful models are implemented here, he said.
LCG put up some money to do this but billions will be needed from the state and federal governments. LCG and other agencies need to engage the community, coteries and neighborhoods to make sure they thrive, not just survive, the interstate construction, Stanley said.
Completing I-49 through Lafayette can do more for economic development in the area than almost anything else, Robideaux said.
But some people believe the elevated I-49 will be a Berlin Wall that splits the community even more than the existing Evangeline Thruway, he said.
It’s no longer a given that the space under an interstate will be blighted, Robideaux said. There can be corridors cut through the structure, connecting both sides, with bike and walking paths, he said.