The neo-traditional design for Metairie Centre,
by Pecot & Company Architects, continues a trend
established in Lafayette Parish by River Ranch
and Sugar Mill Pond.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New commercial development in Youngsville allows residents to shop closer to home. By Walter Pierce


What happens when a bedroom community starts getting its own restaurants, retail centers, medical offices and other services? The bedroom community becomes something else. It’s like putting a mini fridge, cable and computer in a teenager’s bedroom; you don’t see her in the kitchen and the den as much.

Youngsville is becoming that something else. The fastest growing city in Louisiana for more than a decade in the 1990s and 2000s and still one of the fastest growing due mainly to an explosion of residential development, the once sleepy hamlet nestled among south Lafayette Parish’s cane fields is getting some serious momentum thanks in large part to new traffic arteries — Chemin Metairie Parkway and the Ambassador Caffery extension chief among them — that beckon commercial developers anxious to cash in on the city’s robust and affluent commuter population. Build it and they will come.

“We’re finally seeing a lot of commercial development that’s putting our sales tax in a strong position and keeping it moving,” admits Youngsville Mayor Wilson Viator. “We’re really excited about the commercial development, not only for the taxes but for the services to our citizens; they can stay home and shop, whatever they need.”

Reelected in October to serve a third term, Viator has enjoyed a view of Youngsville’s rapid commercial growth from the driver’s seat. In 2000 the city collected roughly $45,000 per month in sales taxes; today its haul runs as high as $220,000 monthly. That revenue will go a long way toward aiding the future expansion of infrastructure on the new roads, which in turn will lure in more commercial development.

“The key thing is having the infrastructure in place, everything is set up, everything works well,” says Adam Loftin, vice president of development for Lafayette-based Teal Realty. Loftin’s company is behind the ambitious new Metairie Centre mixed-use development under way at the Chemin/La. 92 corridor.

The development has already brought a Walgreens and McDonald’s, in addition to other retail enterprises, to the area. An IberiaBank is scheduled to begin construction early next year. Phase two of Metairie Centre, The Quarter, will feature a mixed-use commercial/residential development similar to nearby Sugar Mill Pond and its progenitor, River Ranch, with an emphasis on neo-traditional architecture, green spaces and public gathering areas.

“We saw that people are going to want to stay closer to home to go to restaurants, to do their shopping, to visit their insurance agent — things like that,” says Loftin. “There’s no reason they should have to go all the way into Lafayette.”

The company is in negotiations with other national retailers, although Loftin declined to disclose who they are. But, he added, Teal Realty is making sure that mom-and-pop retailers are also part of the development picture.

“Youngsville is growing so quickly, but it’s still a bedroom community for Lafayette,” he says. “Rouses [Supermarket] really kind of opened that up and showed the potential. But we want to make sure it’s not just a national [retailer] center; it’s going to be a lot of local restaurants and places people know and are comfortable with. We’ll probably be announcing a couple of things in the next few months.”

And, he notes, they’re taking a measured approach to the development, allowing the community to get acclimated to the growth.

“You don’t want to drop in a whole lot of retail space at once on a market like that. Allow it to be absorbed and allow people to see the potential and allow new retailers to come in and want to service that area,” Loftin notes. “That’s why it’s going to be a good pace, but not too quickly. And each one will be reevaluated as we go along to make sure we’re on the right path.”

Loftin anticipates Metairie Centre keeping him busy for the next three to five years. And along the way, he says, he’s counting on a close working relationship with the city of Youngsville.

“They’ve been great to work with,” Loftin says. “They are looking for more of a service base to add to the tax base. In order to do that, they do make things easier. Of course, they’re not giving anything away, but they’re making it attractive for people to come in and invest.”

Viator, too, knows what butters Youngsville’s bread. Until very recently the city faced hazardous financial straits because its residential growth had long outpaced its commercial development; there wasn’t enough tax revenue being generated to maintain services to all the neighborhoods springing up out of the cane fields.

That’s beginning to change.

“When I took over as mayor eight years ago there were about 10 businesses in town, and right now we’re 86 total businesses in the city limits, so that’s a tremendous improvement,” Viator says.

The mayor, a farmer by vocation, sought reelection on a record of attracting new business and expanding the city’s commercial offerings. Some political watchers wondered if that message could be counterproductive in a city that still has a large presence of longtime families worried about Youngsville losing its small town appeal — some old-timers in Youngsville call the Chemin Metairie/La. 92 corridor where Metairie Centre is taking hold the “silk and satin” part of town.

But Viator’s aspirations to bring the mini fridge and Internet to his bedroom community paid off: He won the October election by a wide margin — 59 percent to his opponent’s 41.

Right now Viator is also eyeing the newly completed stretch of Ambassador South running from Lafayette to U.S. 90 in Broussard. Youngsville staked a claim to a stretch on the south side of the road when the city council voted last May to annex it. That annexation is currently tied up in court after a real estate development company that owns some of the land annexed by Youngsville filed suit. So far no trial date has been set, leaving Viator frustrated and anxious.

“I’m trying to get a trial date, get this thing to court and get it over with because really it’s not doing anybody any good where it’s at,” the mayor says. “We can’t move forward on a lot of projects. It’s still up in the air, but I’ll keep pushing as hard as I can.”

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