About 75 people gathered Monday evening at the green space at Jefferson and Lee Streets, where a proposed repurposing of the space is drawing concern from residents who question removing one of the few remaining grass patches in downtown Lafayette.
Downtown Development Authority is leading the design and implementation of the project, which is proposed as a way to better use the space considered the gateway to downtown.
“The grass doesn’t lend itself to being used. We don’t see people using it day to day,” said Geoff Dyer, design director for the DDA.
Dyer fielded questions for about an hour-and-a-half from a group on the steps of Le Centre International, the former Lafayette City Hall building that faces the space.
Ziad Assir, who said he lives in the Saint Streets, expressed skepticism that redesigning the space would bring people there.
“We need to provide more opportunities for people to come here and do things,” Assir said. He said there’s no reason to improve the space when the more urgent need is to better accommodate downtown for residential use.
“Just adding chairs and concrete does not add life,” Assir said.
Cameron Roberts, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette architecture student, said he supports the project. He said the redesign would create a reason for people to gather and use the space.
“Grass for grass sake doesn’t work. This is a waste of space,” Roberts said.
Roberts suggested the DDA mitigate concerns by creating another green space in downtown Lafayette.
Dyer said extending Parc Putnam to Buchanan Street is already an option under consideration. The underused park across from the federal courthouse generally serves as a sleeping space for downtown’s homeless.
Michael Cullen, a landscape architect who’s working on the design of what is to be called “Place Mouton,” said the primary goal is to make it a usable space for people to congregate. He said replacing the unlevel St. Augustine grass with a more functional grass would be costly to install and maintain, thus necessitating a need for paving some of the space.
Others brought up the issue of the traffic intensity at the site. A constant drone of vehicles, motorcycles and city buses on Monday evening sometimes drowned out the conversation.
The process is still in the design phase, but the only certainty is the statue of Confederate Gen. Alfred Mouton will remain, Dyer said. The design proposes removing bushes around the monument and steps in their place.
The proposed design would serve as a pedestal for the monument, Dyer said.
Four people holding signs, such as “ALFRED GEAUX HOME,” opposed the idea of keeping the statue at all.
Frank Crocco, who held a sign reading “WHY ALFRED,” said celebrating the Confederate war hero — whose grandfather was Jean Mouton, credited as the founder of the city once known as Vermilionville — sends the wrong message to Lafayette’s visitors.
“I think we need a better statue here, and I think we can do better as a community,” Crocco said.
Rick Swanson, a UL-Lafayette political science professor, suggested removing the statue would be in keeping with the DDA’s proposal to make the space more functional.
The proposed renovation is part of the Downtown Action Plan approved last year by the Lafayette City-Parish Council, Dyer said. The Downtown Development Authority will ultimately decide the design.
The project was originally intended to begin in January. Dyer said it looks more realistic to expect movement on the project next summer after Festival International de Louisiane.
Follow Lanie Lee Cook on Twitter, @lanieleecook, or contact her by phone at (337) 534-0825.