LAFAYETTE — City-Parish President Joey Durel said Monday he is not planning any major new initiatives in his final two years in office, though he hopes to keep the momentum going on few projects that are taking shape.
“I worry more about starting initiatives that nobody will finish,” Durel said in an interview Monday that touched on the last stretch of his third and final term in office.
He listed his top three accomplishments so far as helping launch LUS Fiber, the city-owned telephone, Internet and television fiber-optic service; sealing the deal with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to buy the 100-acre Horse Farm on Johnston Street for a city park; and starting the process to develop a comprehensive plan for Lafayette.
The comprehensive plan will serve as a guidebook for Lafayette’s future growth and development.
The plan is expected to be finalized later this year, but Durel said much work will be needed to turn the plan’s recommendations into specific policies that address every facet of public life here, including traffic, the economy, public safety, recreation and new commercial and residential developments.
One component of the plan is a new set of development regulations that is now being crafted by consultants with input from community members, and Durel said he hopes the City-Parish Council will adopt the new codes without “nitpicking” the details.
“You hope that the council recognizes that none of them are experts in what we’re doing. ... We have hired experts,” Durel said.
He said the council could always come back in a few years and tweak any elements of the new development code that might not be a good fit for Lafayette.
“It’s not like it’s etched in stone in a way that it’s impossible to fix,” Durel said.
But the city-parish president said he also recognizes that council members, with an eye on re-election in 2015, will likely by cautious of tackling issues that might spark controversy.
“The politics have begun,” Durel said.
Durel said he also hopes to push forward a few major road projects that have long been on the books, such as a new bridge over the Vermilion River on South College Drive and the widening of Kaliste Saloom Road between Ambassador Caffery Parkway and East Broussard Road.
Durel said he expects construction on the Kaliste Saloom project to begin during his last few months in office but the South College bridge could still be several years off.
One loose end Durel said he wants to address in his final two years in office is the redevelopment of the largely dormant city block where the old federal courthouse and two other city-owned buildings all sit vacant.
The city bought the old federal courthouse from the federal government in 2001 for $800,000 after the construction of the new federal courthouse on Lafayette Street.
Early plans for the redevelopment of the old courthouse for office space were abandoned, and the four-story structure on the corner of Jefferson and Main streets has been empty for the past decade with the exception of one small office on the first floor, which was used until 2009.
The administration had backed a plan in 2009 to demolish the old courthouse and the other two city buildings and then redevelop the 1.8-acre site, possibly with a mix of shops, offices and apartments.
Some council members balked, arguing that the city should keep the site as a possible location for a new parish courthouse.
“That was a prime opportunity, and we blew that,” Durel said of council’s decision. “We couldn’t get the votes then, and we’ve struggled trying to get one or two of them to change their votes.”
Durel said a new plan for the site is in the works but nothing definitive has emerged.
“You may see the final deal made before I get out of office,” he said.
Durel said the hope is to create a “flagship” development that would serve to show the private market what’s possible downtown, particularly in offering more living options for downtown.
Downtown Development Authority CEO Nathan Norris, who took the post in 2013, has also tagged the redevelopment of the old federal courthouse site as a top priority.
“I think it would spur a lot of other investment downtown,” Durel said.