Unfiltered Downtown connects residents with decision makers

Andrew Dye speaks as GCI co-worker Anne Swanson looks on during the Downtown Unfiltered event, where Lafayette residents and business owners spoke out on their vision for downtown, Nov. 16, 2016.
(Photo: LEE CELANO/THE ADVERTISER)
Andrew Dye speaks as GCI co-worker Anne Swanson looks on during the Downtown Unfiltered event, where Lafayette residents and business owners spoke out on their vision for downtown, Nov. 16, 2016. (Photo: LEE CELANO/THE ADVERTISER)

LAFAYETTE, La. (The Daily Advertiser) – Residents and community leaders came together Wednesday night to share ideas on how Lafayette’s downtown district can grow and evolve.

Unfiltered Downtown, a civic engagement event presented by The Daily Advertiser and Jefferson Street Pub, promoted positive dialogue on the future of Lafayette’s urban core, a centerpiece district often touted as a place to attract investors, tourists and young professionals.

Speakers invested in the growth of the district had a few minutes on stage to share ideas and issues in front of government leaders, property owners and decision makers.

April Courville said she had three reasons for speaking at Wednesday’s event.

She lives in Freetown, a neighborhood adjacent to downtown Lafayette. She works for Festival International de Louisiane, an annual event started in part to boost downtown and the local economy. And she serves as a board member of Bike Lafayette, an organization that aims to make the community safer for those who bike.

“I feel like there was a really good turnout, which shows people are engaged and they do care,” Courville said. “This is usually the biggest hurdle in moving a city center forward is getting people to show up and be engaged, and this event got people to do just that.”

The event gave voice to Lafayette residents living, working and playing downtown and in neighboring communities, and in turn gave those influencing change and decision making a chance to hear first-hand what the community would like to see moving forward.

Pat Trahan, a downtown resident who serves as chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, did not speak at the Unfiltered event but instead listened to the ideas presented on behalf of the downtown organization.

“I had a very clear understanding that old, bald-headed guys like myself were here to listen and not speak up,” he said with a chuckle. “And I’m 100 percent OK with that.”

Trahan called the experience “refreshing,” saying that when it comes to planning, it’s important to listen to the younger generation.

“There were a lot of young people with a lot of fresh ideas,” he said. “I’m delighted by what happened here downtown (Wednesday).”

Now what?

“I suppose the next step is to process what we heard tonight, curate the comments and distill them down, and figure out what we can do and what’s the next right thing to do downtown,” Trahan said.

Audience members were able to share their own ideas through written statements and videos. The ideas gathered Wednesday will be shared with community leaders and presented online and in print.

Jamie Rendall attended Wednesday’s event to see if her ideas aligned with those speaking on behalf of downtown’s future.

Rendall lives in the LaPlace neighborhood adjacent to downtown, and she works at Tsunami, a restaurant located downtown.

“I thought the spectrum of ideas was the best part of the event,” Rendall said. “People from all parts of downtown and the surrounding area spoke, and that was super cool.”

Rendall said she wants to see more Downtown Unfiltered events that focus on specific downtown issues.

“We need to get people involved. We need people to not just show up, but to spend their time volunteering and their money investing,” she said.

Unfiltered Downtown echoed a similar event, Unfiltered Lafayette, held last October, where The Daily Advertiser gave young leaders a stage to voice issues in front of candidates up for local election.

“Our goal with the Unfiltered series is to connect community members with Lafayette leaders who can spur change,” said The Advertiser’s Casey Ardoin, who organized the event.

“We want to encourage residents, especially the younger crowd, to really get involved with their city and government, and remind those in positions of power that these voices are valuable and needed.”

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