Why it’s important to maintain the spaces we love
Downtown Lafayette is a special place. Our city center functions as the setting and backdrop for many of our community’s favorite festivals and events. It is an entertainment hub for the Acadiana region, and frequently the first place that tourists and other travelers will visit in the area. Yet, with the fondness our residents and visitors have for Downtown, it might come as a surprise that our community has taken a laissez-faire approach to maintenance of Downtown’s built environment for decades.
The Jefferson Street streetscape was established 20 years ago, and the construction of Parc International, Parc Sans Souci, and Parc Putnam followed shortly after. But since those street and park improvements, there have been no major investments in Downtown’s streets, parks, or utilities. Private investment in properties has also slowed, likely due in part to the recent downturn in the regional economy. In order to kickstart investment in the district, the Downtown Developmen Authority has established a number of initiatives to address deffered maintenance. These initiatives have occurred in conjunction with partnerships with Lafayette Consolidated Government, LUS, and Downtown property owners via public-private partnerships. The belief is that a series of small but direct investments in Downtown can create a “ripple effect” of improvement throughout the district. DDA believes that this concept will yield many positive results for Downtown Lafayette.
Here are some of the ways that DDA has worked to increase investment and enhance the district of Downtown Lafayette:
Cleaner & safer through small improvements
Graffiti removal is an ongoing battle in urban areas worldwide. DDA has created a budget line item to address unwanted graffiti and other vandalism in the Downtown district. The initiative has cleaned over two dozen sites in the past year.
Temporary barricades were removed from the fountain at Parc de Lafayette in favor of a permanent seating ledge. This project was made possible through a cost sharing agreement between DDA and LCG Public Works.
A number of abandoned utility poles were removed near the intersection of Vermilion and Buchanan streets. This project was a joint effort by DDA, Southwest Group, and AT&T. Removing these poles is a small step toward plans to make Downtown more accessible to handicapped and disabled Lafayette residents.
DDA’s Facade Improvement Program
Main street revitalization is a trend that can yield outstanding results. The rehabilitation of facades can enhance a historic shopping district’s vibrancy by improving walkability, livability, and contributing to higher rates of retail success. In improved facade also send a message of positive change for the district. DDA’s Facade Improvement Grant Program has helped to create renewed interest in the Downtown district, bringing new investments, and attracting new customers for existing businesses. Improving the quality of our Downtown streetscape is paramount to DDA’s mission of physical, economic, and cultural revitalization of Downtown Lafayette.
The first application for the Facade Improvement Grant was a low-cost project with big visual improvement. The property owner partnered with DDA to pressure wash the facade, repaint the exterior, install new awnings, and apply a new hand-painted gold leaf sign.
Newcomers to Downtown Lafayette, Scratch Kitchen completed an excellent renovation on Garfield Street. DDA was able to assit the improvements by replacinge the old moldy awning with a new black awning to match others in the district.
The property owner at 523 S. Buchanan utilized the Facade Improvement Grant to update the building’s paint scheme.
Partnering and coordinating with the LCG and LUS
Working in coordination with LCG Public Works, and LUS is a huge benefit to Downtown Lafayette. Repairing and installing streetscape elements often requires specialty equipment and operators; without the help of Public Works, and LUS, DDA would not be able to accomplish much of the work required to maintain the district.
Through a partnership with LUS the DDA was able to remove the metal “Downtown Lafayette” signs from the light posts along the streetscape for maintenance and a new paint job with weatherproof sealer. The signs were later reinstalled by an LUS electrical crew.
Public works recently restriped all brick paver crosswalks in Downtown Lafayette. DDA understands the importance of pedestrian safety if Downtown is going to grow into a thriving urban walkable community.
“Placemaking” to push Downtown forward
Downtown Lafayette is working hard to sustain its place as the heart of the Acadiana region. Maintenance may seem an unlikely branding strategy, but in the age of social media and constant connectedness a well-loved place will present itself as the backdrop to good times.
Self-watering hanging planters were planted and installed by Downtown Lafayette Unlimited with the help of volunteers. A small way of showing how much we love our Downtown and also demonstrate our dedication to its continued maintenance.
The improvements in our examples above are small but highly visible. Downtown Lafayette needs large-scale infrastructure investments, but they will take time. Until then, DDA is showing that quick, low-cost improvements can inspire the Downtown community to take charge of its future. A new chapter of placemaking is on the horizon and it will be paired with continued maintenance of the Downtown spaces we love. ◊