A proposed project regarded as the catalyst to revitalizing the Four Corners area is one step closer to reality.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council voted 7-1 Tuesday in favor of declaring a police substation and plaza project a “public necessity,” paving the way for the city-parish to acquire the Lesspay Motel on University Avenue — whether through an amicable sale or by force — and build in its place.
“This project will help our neighborhood come together and make Lafayette a better place,” said Stephanie Cornay-Dugan, who owns property adjacent to the motel and a business farther down Cameron Street.
Councilman William Theriot voted against the ordinance, taking issue with its language allowing the city to force the owner to relinquish his property. Councilman Jared Bellard offered an amendment to eliminate the expropriation language, but it failed.
Councilman Brandon Shelvin countered that the motel, which is in his district, has been targeted for decades as a hub for drugs and prostitution.
“We have a prime opportunity to change the landscape,” Shelvin said.
The council also voted unanimously to give the nonprofit organization tasked with developing Lafayette Central Park another two years to meet the conditions needed to lease from the city-parish the former Horse Farm, which the nonprofit will develop into a 100-acre public park.
A 24-month extension was granted to Lafayette Central Park Inc., which has raised only a third of the $4.2 million required in the prelease agreement ahead of the approaching Jan. 26 deadline to meet the requirements of the agreement.
“What we want is a success — and we have every intention to see it succeed — but we also have to understand that we have to be realistic in our economic times,” said Councilman Don Bertrand, who offered the extension while alluding to the decline in oil prices that could negatively affect fundraising efforts.
The extension gives the group until Jan. 26, 2017, to raise funds and finalize construction documents so it can begin developing the park. Another July 26 deadline for groundbreaking has been extended to July 26, 2017.
Public outreach on the park’s development took six months longer than expected, said Lenny Lemoine, chairman of the organization’s board of directors. The group also is waiting on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve the park’s wetlands status. Other issues — including sewage and right-of-way projects that have fallen behind — also led to the delay, Lemoine said.
“The biggest challenge from here is going to be fundraising,” Lemoine said. “It’s feeling like everybody’s a little bit on their heels right now.”
Lemoine said although the prelease agreement requires the group to raise $4.2 million, the park’s first phase will cost an estimated $15 million to $16 million.
He said a formal fundraising campaign should begin by March.
In other business, City-Parish President Joey Durel urged the council to take action on a proposal to develop the old federal courthouse downtown on Jefferson Street.
The council voted 5-3 at its Nov. 18 meeting against approving rough outlines of a plan to redevelop the old courthouse site, instead citing the need for a new parish courthouse.
The functioning structure is more than 50 years old and rife with technical and security issues, Durel said.
After he met Friday with state district Judge Marilyn Castle, parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret and District Attorney Keith Stutes, Durel proposed buying properties near the parish courthouse on Lafayette Street to build a courthouse annex.
The option provides a more feasible solution than finding money to build a new $75 million parish courthouse, while still allowing the old federal courthouse property to be developed for residential use, Durel said.
“We have a responsibility to the court system — we recognize that — but we also have a responsibility to the people of Lafayette to progress,” Durel said.
Follow Lanie Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook.