There has never been a more exciting time in Lafayette’s history than the one this community is writing right now, and it’s pervasive throughout the parish (except for the public school system, but that’s another column in the works). There is a growing phalanx of innovative, energetic, thoughtful people who are secure in leadership roles in the private and the public sector, working together with an enlightened vision of what our community can truly become. It’s more instinctive than calculated; there hasn’t been one, comprehensive goal-setting retreat, but there is plenty of open communication.
This issue of Acadiana Business explores how that vision is being expressed in the built community, and our cover story is a great example. It focuses on new investment in downtown Lafayette, the oldest realm of the city. Staff writer Nathan Stubbs reports on a series of resourceful re-development projects that will help balance the city’s commercial and residential growth and revitalize aging neighborhoods and properties. These initiatives also offer examples of public-private teamwork and a collective commitment to address the threat of urban blight. Some of them are being reported here for the very first time. All are being developed amid the resurgent identity of Upper Lafayette, a community pride initiative that is gradually gaining strength in the northern part of the city under the stewardship of former city-parish council candidate Jan Swift.
On the city’s south side, which has long been the focus of investment dollars in Lafayette, River Ranch continues to make national news as a model example of Smart Growth development. Last week a Fox News crew filmed there for four days to prepare a segment for the network’s “Eye on America” feature. Our home-grown model of New Urbanism was chosen first among hundreds of similar developments around the country. The report will air on Fox and will be repackaged for multiple segments on The Travel Channel this fall.
Also in this issue, Gregg Gothreaux, president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, provides a progress report on the growth and development of the smaller municipalities around the parish.
One project in particular embodies both the new look and the new feel of our community: the headquarters for the Community Foundation of Acadiana, which held a groundbreaking ceremony last week in River Ranch. In just seven short years this nascent organization has grown to $21 million in assets. The pro-active board understands the potential for the foundation to become an agent of change in this community, much like foundations in Kansas City and Baton Rouge have done. Rodney and Cindi Savoy donated the property for the building on one of the quickly vanishing, undeveloped corners on Camellia Boulevard.
The foundation has quickly come to represent something more: the importance of regionalism. In an unprecedented show of multi-parish cooperation, government officials from nine parishes turned out in the pouring rain last week for the groundbreaking ceremony.
Tragically, as this issue on development went to press, we lost a respected member of Lafayette’s construction community. Stephen Billeaud, founder and owner of BEO Contractors, had a reputation for integrity and quality that was well-established early in his career at Weill Construction. “He was a fine man and a true professional,” says Tim Lemoine, formerly of the Lemoine Co. “We sought him out years ago to work for us or partner in some way but ultimately, when Mr. Weill retired, Stephen decided to go his own way.” In 13 years, BEO Contractors amassed an impressive body of work. Lemoine notes that even under the most challenging conditions, Billeaud’s company could complete the job on time. “He was a lean and efficient operator. He did all estimating and project managing himself,” says Lemoine. “He was the whole package, and he will be missed.”