The Downtown Development Authority is proposing construction of a performing arts center in downtown Lafayette to replace the 61-year-old Heymann Performing Arts Center, which landlocked Ochsner Lafayette General wants to buy.

Referring to the idea as “the type of investment that tips the scale,” DDA CEO Anita Begnaud introduced the proposal at the board’s monthly meeting Thursday morning.

The Heymann Center is owned and operated by the city of Lafayette. With discussions under way about new locations for a replacement, which have included Cajundome Boulevard on university property or the intersection of Interstates 10 and 49, Begnaud said she wanted to make sure downtown Lafayette is considered.

For several months, a committee of stakeholders headed by former Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, a former state legislator now lobbying for Ochsner Lafayette General, has been exploring the idea of a new performing arts center in Lafayette to clear the way for the hospital to expand onto the Heymann Center property.

Lafayette Consolidated Government in November asked the state to help fund a new $127 million performing arts center in the next budget cycle. Voters also may be asked to approve a temporary 1-cent sales tax that would be collected for a short, specific amount of time as was done with a sales tax for Lafayette Regional Airport’s new terminal.

“It would be sad to lose an icon like that,” Sam Oliver, executive director of the Acadiana Center for the Arts, said Thursday, adding that the Heymann Center will go away and the property will become part of Ochsner.

“That’s what’s driving it,” Miles Matt, immediate past DDA chairman said. “We all know that.”

Discussion remains in the early stages, and no site has been finalized, but downtown officials have identified space next to the IberiaBank/First Horizon tower, 200 W. Congress St., to be studied, Begnaud said. Bank officials are supportive of the concept, she noted, but have not approved any transfer of property.

The surface parking area consisting of nearly 2½ acres would be enough space to replicate the Heymann Center, which sits on 2.41 acres. The bank also controls a surface parking lot across Congress Street that could be the site of a parking garage.

The DDA is open to considering other sites, Begnaud said.

Building a PAC downtown would create better economic results than building it near the Cajundome, according to the DDA’s proposal. Only 12 businesses would be impacted by putting it near the Cajundome, but 100 would benefit by putting it downtown.

“Downtown is the place where you have the greatest opportunities,” Begnaud said. “It’s going to make people’s interest in living downtown shift because you’re going to have so much more entertainment and cultural opportunities that it becomes a more attractive place to live. Putting it in the downtown environment is going to leverage a commercial and entertainment center of Lafayette and help it grow. This is the type of investment that tips the scale.”

The site could be a strategic one that could be located near the Interstate 49 that will eventually be built adjacent to downtown and serve as a “Front Door of Lafayette,” the proposal indicated.

Specifications for square footage would be similar to the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina, which many Lafayette leaders visited during a Leadership Exchange program in 2019. That building seats 2,500 and is housed on a site that is actually smaller than the proposed IberiaBank/First Horizon site.

“It’s accessible and connected to infrastructure,” Begnaud said. “This project can be the new front door to Lafayette with the I-49 corridor coming through and the downtown exit off I-49. This site is large enough, it’s accessible and there’s one property owner. For downtown to put its best foot forward, we don’t have time to assemble property or demolish existing structures. That was top of mind for us.”

A PAC could also trigger private development downtown, including along Congress Street, the area around the future CGI headquarters site and along the Main Street corridor near the Lafayette Parish Courthouse.

Tourists spend more and stay longer, the report indicated, while staying in an immediately accessible downtown environment, the proposal indicated. Average spending for cultural tourists is 60% more than the domestic leisure travelers.

“This is our job — to put downtown Lafayette forward as a viable location for development,” Begnaud said. “Especially catalytic development that we know will create more opportunities in development and more sales and property tax revenue.”

Read the rest of Adam Daigle and Claire Taylor’s article for The Acadiana Advocate.

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