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The Downtown community is making the best of a tough time. This month we hosted the first-ever #ArtWalkAtHome and received dozens of submissions of homemade and professional artwork from painters, crafters, kids, adults, and all types of artists in the Acadiana area. Participants posted artwork online, in their homes, and on the streets of their neighborhood. We may be physically distant, but we are still together as a community.
A few words from our CEO, Anita Begnaud
As I write this opening to The Downtowner, I am celebrating my 18-month anniversary at DDA and DLU. Any day now, our office’s 2019 annual report should be hitting your mailboxes and inboxes. Titled “Momentum”, the report celebrates the progress Lafayette’s Downtown district experienced during a record-setting year of excitement and progress. Our plan for 2020 was to continue building upon that strong foundation. Like so many of you, I did not anticipate the tremendous challenges COVID-19 would bring our downtown and broader community.
An excerpt from my letter in the report references how hard our team worked in 2019 to “bring new energy and a sense of pride to the center of Lafayette.” None of us could have guessed how important that work would be now.
There’s no way around it, addressing this pandemic head-on has been difficult and oftentimes exhausting. But I still feel the momentum of our district in the midst of all this uncertainty. There are so many businesses and people of Downtown that have inspired and energized our office in the past six weeks. (We have a section below to highlight a number of them.)
We may be all working remotely, but we remain a close-knit community. It’s been heartwarming to witness how we’ve stuck together, chipped in, and supported one another during these hard times. Amy Jones from Burning Stick Creative, our DLU member spotlight this month, is right – there’s an energy and collaborative spirit in Downtown Lafayette that doesn’t exist anywhere else in this area. I believe it’s this spirit that will fuel our district’s recovery in the coming months and years.
Meanwhile, our office has been working diligently to keep you informed and engaged by pivoting to provide access to webinars as well as fun and educational virtual programming, partnering on fundraising efforts to help industries impacted by this crisis, marketing businesses that are open, and encouraging people to continue to #letdowntownsurpriseyou. Typically, we’d be inviting you to come to us – to walk Downtown’s streets, inhabit its public spaces, enjoy its restaurants and bars and venues. But this has given us a chance to turn outward and continue to promote all that Downtown has to offer, but with a special twist – at your dining room tables (Downtown Toot ‘n’ Scoot), in your living rooms (DTA! House Sessions), and throughout your neighborhoods (#ArtWalkAtHome).
Thank you to the many of you who have reached out to ask how we are doing and how you can help support Downtown Lafayette even during these uncertain times. It’s been a wild ride for all of us, but I know we’ll look back someday and be proud that we never gave up and continued to find new ways to support our community, colleagues, and friends.
I’ll leave you with a lyric from one of my favorite songs: “Even in the darkness, we’ll find the light.” – David Ramirez
Until we can safely meet again Downtown,
Chief Executive Officer
Downtown Development Authority / Downtown Lafayette Unlimited
Downtown partners, sponsors, and others who have inspired us through their efforts and contributions
Since the onset of COVID-19 in our community, there are a number of individuals, organizations, and businesses who have stepped up to support local businesses, musicians, and employees in Acadiana. Here are some of those incredible initiatives:
One Acadiana, Downtown Development Authority, LEDA, and other Acadiana resource providers and regional chambers of commerce have shifted focus to compiling resources, producing webinars, and providing toolkits to support affected Acadiana businesses. The One Acadiana COVID-19 resources page is a wealth of information necessary for anyone who has felt the economic impacts of COVID-19.
Gus Rezende of Social Entertainment created the Lost My Gig and Lost My Tips funds in partnership with sponsors and partner organizations like DLU, ACA, and United Way. In just one month, these funds raised over $85,000 for hundreds of musicians and restaurant industry workers in Acadiana.
In addition to being a partner for the Lost My Gig fund, Acadiana Center for the Arts created the Acadiana Creative Relief Fund—which will award grants of up to $300 to individual artists who live in Acadiana and whose creative practices and incomes have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jones Walker and Rock’n’Bowl joined Downtown Lafayette in feeding more than 200 families in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Acadiana network.
The United Way of Acadiana has also created a number of initiatives to serve Acadiana residents, from the Feed the Envie Fund for hospitality workers, to a partnership with Second Harvest of Acadiana to distribute food to families in need, and efforts to collect medical supplies and donations to meet gaps in resources.
Acadiana chef, Pat Mould (also the VP of Programming and Development for Festivals Acadiens et Créoles) has coordinated a group of local musicians, event producers, and venues to join efforts to promote their live stream concerts as a means of raising funds for Feed the Envie.
Downtown restaurant owner, Nidal Balbeisi of Agave Grill & Cantina, partnered with the Youngsville Fire Department to distribute over 1,000 free plate lunches to individuals and families in need from their location in Youngsville.
We would also like to thank Evangeline Maid Bakery, Lafayette Coca-Cola, Super 1 Foods, Lafayette Utility System (LUS), and the many other Downtown Alive! sponsors who have supported our organization as we had to cancel the Spring season and pivot to virtual events. Their support means that we can continue to provide a platform for local musicians to make money and bring the Acadiana community together.
It’s a Virtual World Now…
The restrictions on gatherings have caused an explosion in live stream concerts and virtual performances. We are excited to be a part of a group of Acadiana organizers and event promoters who have transitioned to using online video content for good during these unique times.
DTA! House Sessions
You have probably seen one or two of our DTA! House Session performances, featuring local musicians from our Spring DTA! Lineup. These virtual concerts have raised money through tips and donations from the audience for musicians who have lost months of income from cancelled gigs. We will continue to provide engaging entertainment for the people of Acadiana, and we hope you will continue to tune in.
Corey Ledet playing three instruments (an accordion and two drums) while telling our online audience about how much he loves Evangeline Maid “sammiches” during one DTA! House Session.
Virtual Festival International
There have been many other livestream initiatives outside of DTA! House Sessions. We already mentioned Pat Mould and his group of Acadiana Presenters who coordinated dozens of musicians to raise funds for United Way. And of course there was last weekend’s virtual Festival International, which showed how strong our community is in Downtown Lafayette and all of Acadiana. Instead of mourning the loss of our most beloved festival, the people here came together online and at their homes to keep the spirit of Festival alive. The staff at Festival International and their many partners did an incredible job putting together an entire weekend of virtual concerts, archival footage, and #StayHome activities to get people across the country dancing on their porches and in their living rooms. Downtown restaurants even participated by offering their usual mix of Festival staples like bread bowls, sno-balls, and sangria. If you enjoyed the virtual Festival, we urge you to support them by making a donation or purchasing Festival merchandise. Donations made to the Festival International Guardian Angels Fund provide stability for Festival International’s future. The best part? Your donation amount will be doubled as part of the SOLA Giving Day campaign.
Why getting takeout is now more important than ever
The past two months have had a devastating economic impact on local businesses, with bars and restaurants have been hit especially hard. Over half of the restaurants in Downtown Lafayette have closed due to restrictions and loss of business from COVID-19, but some have stayed open to keep putting food on your table and money in their employees pockets. We encourage you to support these establishments by ordering takeout or delivery at least once a week from a Downtown restaurant. There are other ways to support restaurants and their employees, like purchasing gift cards, leaving a positive review, or donating to United Way of Acadiana’s Feed the Envie fund.
Here’s how you can help our restaurants make it through these hard times: Six ways to support Downtown restaurants
DLU Member Spotlight: Amy Jones of Burning Stick Creative
Amy Jones and her team at Burning Stick Creative are passionate about the future of Downtown. That’s why we chose to highlight them in our second DLU Member Spotlight video. At a time like now, when many businesses in the Downtown area are suffering, it is an important reminder that we have come so far by working together. In the video, Amy talks about the collaborative effort of Downtown and how she sees that effort driving Lafayette into the future.
Downtown Development Progress
Updates on stories of progress in Downtown Lafayette
Downtown milestone: Vermilion Lofts is now ready for tenants
Downtown experienced a milestone this month as Vermilion Lofts finished construction. The district now boasts a brand new mixed-use building at the corner of Vermilion and Jefferson streets, marking the first major completion of new residential units downtown in over a decade. The Vermilion Lofts building is made up of 3,600 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and 24 apartments of varying sizes on the three floors above. And the developers of this project are already looking to the future for a second phase! As companies like CGI plan to bring new employees to the district, the demand for residential units in the highly walkable Downtown neighborhood will only increase. We can’t wait to see this district grow into a true neighborhood with a strong residential makeup and everyday amenities to support urban living.
“We haven’t seen much change until now,” said Jim Keaty, owner of Keaty Real Estate. “Stephen’s property (Vermilion Lofts) will be a catalyst for more people downtown, which in turn will create more business for downtown business owners and more activity on a weeknight. We need more residents.”
Read more: More downtown living: Vermilion Lofts to build second phase with at least 40 units – Acadiana Advocate, March 26
Buchanan Garage + Old Federal Courthouse projects see new changes
Activity Downtown may have slowed in the past month, but construction projects are still moving. Although the streets are quiet, there is a lot of activity on the 700 block of Jefferson Street.
After one month, the panels from the Buchanan Garage have been removed on three sides, with removal on the fourth wall still underway. Once all of the nonstructural panels are removed, LCG will be able to property assess the structural condition of the garage itself.
Over the past month and a half, the Old Federal Courthouse site has been undergoing internal demolition and remediation work. The project is poised to transform the old courthouse site into an 88,000-square-foot mixed-use project with 25,000 square feet of commercial space and residential units on the upper floors of the courthouse building.
Read More: Downtown Lafayette’s Buchanan Garage Remediation – Developing Lafayette, April 1
New trash bins installed, more to come
The Downtown Development Authority has identified improvements and maintenance to the streetscape as a high priority because of the visual impact it has on both locals and tourists. Attractive and inviting streetscapes that provide a clean and safe environment for pedestrians can help spur economic activity. A simple and effective way to maintain a clean streetscape is to control the amount of litter on the streets and sidewalks through proper trashcan placement.
DDA inventoried Downtown’s trash bins earlier this year and identified a general shortage of bins, a lack of bins in high traffic areas, and problems with wind causing properly-disposed-of waste to fly out of bins with no lids. In response, the DDA created a program to purchase new trash bins. Our office has since coordinated with Public Works to install 9 new bins this year. It’s our hope that by expanding the footprint of the trash bin network, we can curb the amount of litter seen throughout the district. We will continue to work to add new bins and phase out the older bins without lids. Be on the lookout for more new trash bins along with many other streetscape improvements in the coming years!
DOWNTOWN IN THE NEWS
Keep up with important stories in the Downtown area.
KADN Downtown business features
KADN News15 has done an amazing job of highlighting the ways that local businesses have been responding to COVID-19 restrictions and changes. They’ve produced a number of videos on Downtown businesses that we think you should watch:
- Anita Begnaud (Downtown Development Authority)
- Nicole David (Mon Rêve Salon)
- Ross Fontenot (Genterie Supply Co.)
- Greg Walls (Johnson’s Boucaniere)
- Trey Ware (Black Cafe)
- Stephen Ortego (Vermilion Lofts)
- Meg Arceneaux (Hub City Cycles)
- Tess Brunet (Lagniappe Records)
- Jeremy Conner (Spoonbill Watering Hole & Restaurant)
- Bradley Cruice (Handy Stop Market & Cafe)
- Allison Nederveld (Sugar Wolf Outdoor Exchange)
- Carly Viator (Festival International)
- Collin Cormier (Pop’s Poboys)
- Erin Grey (Central Pizza)
- Cathy Pavy (Pavy Art + Design Studio)
Other Downtown News Stories:
Favorite trees: Acadiana residents share the trees they love and why – The Advertiser, March 18
Toot ‘N Scoot Zones Allow Curbside Pickup at downtown spots – KATC, March 19
More downtown living: Vermilion Lofts to build second phase with at least 40 units – Acadiana Advocate, March 26
Photos: Robert Dafford mural removed from the Buchanan Street parking tower – Acadiana Advocate, March 27
More than half of restaurants in downtown Lafayette have closed; here’s a list of the ones still open – Acadiana Advocate, March 31
Downtown Lafayette’s Buchanan Garage Remediation – Developing Lafayette, April 1
Coronavirus has Lafayette’s restaurant workers living on the fly – The Current, April 7
Paycheck protection fund empty, but many Acadiana business owners still need relief from COVID-19 shutdown – Acadiana Advocate, April 16
Lafayette sign painted to support Festival International – KATC, April 21
For virtual Festival International, restaurants say it’s not about the money – The Current, April 22
Spirit of Festival International Lives in the Heart of Acadiana – KADN, April 24
Have you joined the Downtown member community?
Over 100 new members joined DLU in 2019—a growth rate of almost 100%! The momentum of new residential projects, business developments, and engaging events has brought a renewed interest from local businesses and individuals alike. If you’re someone who lives or works in Downtown—or just appreciates the district—you should consider joining the growing Downtown member community.
Downtown Lafayette Unlimited is a non-profit, member-based organization that works to promote and connect downtown businesses, residents, and enthusiasts. By joining, you will have access to special members-only networking events, a chance to serve on the DLU board, enhanced marketing opportunities for your business, and an opportunity to support the Downtown you know and love.