LAFAYETTE — Lafayette has long been known for its food, music and joie de vivre, but it doesn’t always make the best first impression.
From trash flowing into the Bayou Vermilion and litter strewn along roadways to the illegal temporary signs and tangle of utility lines cluttering major streets, the look of the city doesn’t always match its feel.
“We’ve heard this for a long, long time,” said City-Parish President Joey Durel, who with a broad group of business leaders and community groups launched a wide-ranging beautification effort on Monday called “Project Front Yard.”
Durel said the hope is to create something that has a more lasting impact than a few litter cleanups.
“We are talking about cultural change that we can make in Lafayette,” he said.
Plans call for a media campaign, revitalization of the gateways to the city off Interstate 10, public art projects and enhanced enforcement of litter and anti-dumping laws.
As part of the initiative, city-parish government is creating a new position dedicated to coordinating the various community groups already involved in anti-litter campaigns and to enforcing the city’s laws against the small temporary signs commonly seen tacked to utility poles and sprouting up along the city’s streets.
“What some folks call litter-on-a-stick,” said city-parish Chief Development Officer Kevin Blanchard.
City-parish government has long identified the clutter of illegal signs as an issue but has lacked the staff for robust enforcement on the city’s sign laws.
Blanchard said the administration also plans to bring tougher anti-litter laws to the council with the goal of making it easier to prosecute the crime, and Police Chief Jim Craft said officers will start paying more attention to the issue.
“We are going to try to get a more sustained and directed effort to do that,” Craft said.
The initiative announced on Monday also calls for a study on burying utility lines in the city to give Johnston Street and other major thoroughfares a cleaner look.
City-parish officials have been discussing burying the power lines along Johnston Street for at least a decade.
But a study released two years ago estimated it would cost from $16 million to $26.7 million per mile due the complexities of working with rights-of-way already stuffed with sewer, water, gas, telephone and cable lines along a street where many businesses push close to the edge.
At the time, Durel said the price tag gave him a “sinking feeling” and seemed to make the project impossible, but Lafayette Utilities System Director Terry Huval said Monday they will give the idea another look.
“Johnston Street would probably be a good place to start,” Huval said.
He said most areas developed since the late 1960s already have buried power lines, but many of the older areas of the city do not.
Huval said any study on burying power lines would have to consider how to pay for the work.
Similar projects in other cities have been funded through a tax or a special charge on utility bills.
“In order to deal with those poles, we have to have the support of the people,” Huval said.
Lafayette Economic Development Authority President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux said the “Front Yard” initiative should address the one missing piece that some prospective business representatives notice when considering a move to Lafayette.
It’s easy to sell the culture and the strength of the local economy, he said, but getting past the first impression can take a bit more work.
“One thing that comes out loud and clear is that this community could be more attractive. This is the final step,” Gothreaux said.
Several “Project Front Yard” events are scheduled for October. For a full list, visit www.projectfrontyard.com.