Plans for a new public park on the 100-acre Horse Farm property along Johnston Street call for lush gardens, walking trails, ponds, pavilions and tree houses out of a kid’s dream.
The only thing needed now is millions of dollars to build it.
After falling behind on an ambitious timeline developed early on in the project, the nonprofit group overseeing fundraising for the park and its development has a master plan in hand and is preparing for the serious work of raising serious money.
“We are poised now for great success,” said Sheldon Roy, a veteran fundraiser who began work last month as Lafayette Central Park’s new director of financial development.
Lafayette city-parish government purchased the Horse Farm from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for $5.8 million in 2012, with the plan of having Lafayette Central Park lease the property and take responsibility for building and managing a park there.
The group finalized a master plan for the property last year that emerged out of series of community forums. The strategy is to build the park in two or more phases, and the current estimate for the first phase hovers around $16 million.
Roy said it has yet to be determined what the goal will be for a major capital campaign he plans to launch by the summer.
He said the fundraising goal will seek to balance demands of the project with what he feels is the community’s capacity for philanthropy because the group wants to be sure to hit its mark.
Roy comes to the task with broad experience in the world of fundraising.
The Avoyelles Parish native got his start in philanthropy more than a decade ago as director of major gifts and donor relations for the American Red Cross of Greater Miami and the Keys. More recently, he served as senior vice president of development for the Miami Science Museum, where he secured a $35 million gift for a new museum facility.
Since 2011, he has run his own charitable giving consulting group, Roy Philanthropic Corp.
Roy said he took the job in Lafayette because he wanted to return to his home state. But having lived away in Miami for so long, he faces one obvious hurdle in his new position.
“Here, the challenge for me is that I don’t know the philanthropists,” Roy said.
Knowing people is a big part of the job, and Roy said he is working to establish those critical connections.
“To be a successful fundraiser, you have to build relationships, because people give to people,” he said.
Another challenge is the project itself.
Lafayette Central Park has no history, no cultivated stable of reliable donors, no track record of success.
But that challenge if offset by what Roy perceives as the palpable excitement about the idea of new park in the heart of the city.
“I haven’t had anyone speak negatively to me about the park,” he said.
Roy also said it helps that so much groundwork has been done to develop the master plan. He said he plans to work in the coming months in a “silent” phase to sell that plan and line up major donors before launching the public campaign.
Smaller donations are important in allowing everyone in the community to have a stake in the park, he said, but the million-dollar-and-up contributions will push the project forward and entice midlevel donors who might want assurances the project seems viable before writing a check.
“It just sets the stage for a successful campaign,” Roy said of securing major gifts early.
If the campaign is indeed successful, the park’s first phase will likely include many features on the front part of the property closest to Johnston Street, including a farmers market pavilion, trails, a dog park, gardens and a pond, said Lafayette Central Park Director of Administration and Capital Projects Elizabeth “EB” Brooks.
The $16 million estimate for the first phase assumes about $11 million to $12 million for park features, plus $3 million to $4 million for baseline infrastructure, such as drainage, electric lines and parking, Brooks said.
The rough estimate for building every feature in the park master plan ranges between $50 million and $60 million.
The timeline and extent of the build-out is still an unknown at this stage.
“I think it all depends on the capital campaign and the generosity of Acadiana,” Brooks said.