LAFAYETTE — Acadiana economic development groups on Tuesday expressed their support for a 1-cent sales tax proposition on Saturday’s ballot, when Lafayette Parish voters will decide on an eight-month levy on goods and services to help finance an expanded terminal and other improvements at Lafayette Regional Airport.
The tax, if passed, would be collected from April 1 to Nov. 30 and put $35 million to $37 million in the bank. The proceeds would be added to federal and state grants along with borrowed money to reach the estimated $90 million it’ll take to expand the terminal from three commercial boarding gates to five, with room to add two more. The project also would add parking, runway aprons and entrance roads.
“Saturday will tell us … whether or not we see the airport as a major factor in attracting and sustaining business, bringing in tourists from all parts of the globe, and getting our families to and from vacations, family reunions and important functions,” Lafayette Airport Commission Chairman Matt Cruse told media and officials from at least 12 organizations that support the measure.
Cruse and the other six members of the airport commission and other tax backers have crisscrossed the parish the last four months, pitching the benefits of a modern terminal.
An often-heard line at those meetings — with businesses, chambers of commerce, city councils, tourism agencies and planning organizations — is that Lafayette’s airport has a hard time efficiently and comfortably handling its current 471,000 passengers a year in a cramped airport that’s 55 years old.
And, they tell people, the passenger load is expected to grow 40 percent by 2025.
“The facility is not equipped to handle that type of growth” without being expanded and updated, said Jason El Koubi, president of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce.
Cruse, whose paying job is running an oil field service company, said oil and gas officials he’s visited at companies along U.S. 90 south of Lafayette recognize the need for a modern airport.
“They range from multibillion-dollar, Fortune 500 oil and gas companies to smaller, independent service companies, such as my own,” Cruse said.
David Mann, chairman of the I-49 South Coalition, a group dedicated to finding funding to turn U.S. 90 into Interstate 49 South, said the oil and gas companies along U.S. 90 depend on the Lafayette airport for access to the world.
Other officials Tuesday spoke of visitors’ first impressions of Lafayette, and the airport’s importance because it is a “gateway,” an entry point for visitors.
“Lafayette is an international port, and we need to be on an international level,” said David Cheramie, chief of the Bayou Vermilion District.
Troy Hebert, president of the Realtor Association of Acadiana, said business executives who might some day plant a corporate flag in Acadiana fly through the airport every month. It’s important, Hebert said, that visitors arrive and leave in a modern, comfortable facility.
Opposition to the tax has been muted. William Theriot, a Lafayette City-Parish councilman, cast the lone no vote among the nine council members who in the spring opted to put the tax to a vote. Theriot has said Lafayette Parish property owners pay millions of dollars in taxes to the airport each year and that it should live within its means. He also said companies planning expansion could put those plans on hold if they have to pay the extra 1 percent in sales tax next year.
But Jan Swift, who heads the Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation, said Tuesday that tax talk in her circles has been positive.
“We’re hearing such incredible buzz,” Swift said.
Other organizations backing the tax include the Greater Southwest Louisiana Black Chamber of Commerce; the Broussard Chamber of Commerce; the Iberia Parish Airport Authority; the Iberia Industrial Development Foundation; the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Vermilion, St. Landry and Lafayette parishes; the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association; the Bayou Vermilion District; and the Lafayette Convention & Visitors Bureau.