For years, St. Landry Parish has struggled economically. Downtown Opelousas, one of the state's oldest towns, has rows of abandoned and rundown buildings along what were once bustling thoroughfares.

However, in recent years, local government and business groups have begun setting up economic development districts in key locations in the parish to fix problems and make these areas attractive so businesses and residents are more likely to move into them.

Grand Coteau's Economic Development District was established in November 2015 with a 2-cent sales tax. It encompasses a large part of Grand Coteau that runs east of Interstate 49 and a few sections inside the town.

The Central St. Landry Economic Development District was established in August 2017 with a 1-cent sales tax. It is mostly comprised of the areas that run along both sides of I-49 from the Opelousas city limits north until just past the U.S. 190 exit, and the tax is expected to generate just over $1.35 million for 2018. 

Both were passed by voters and their respective councils.

The Opelousas Downtown Development District was passed by voters this year and the one-cent tax to fund it will go into effect on Jan. 1. It covers downtown Opelousas and its four major entryways.

"They're going to be focused strictly on enhancing Opelousas through enhancing the gateways into downtown, along I-49 and Grand Coteau," said Bill Rodier, executive director of St. Landry Economic Development. "We want to attract not just businesses but also activity and residents.

"There certainly aren't enough people living in the downtown area, which requires investment to get living spaces and other things that will make more people want to live downtown and in Opelousas. We're hoping the Gateway to Acadiana and our districts' work to improve all the gateways into downtown will help revitalize it."

Revenue will fund projects such as new road lighting and water treatment facilities along with bringing in new businesses or allowing for growth. A roundabout will be installed on the eastern side of the Grand Coteau exit on I-49.

In Grand Coteau, GoBears Truck Stop and Lafitte's Treasure Casino, 1828 I-49 Frontage Road, are expanding across the road and are investing $2.5 million to redo the old Citgo gas station and the 18-wheeler parking and also to build a Huddle House. According to Rodier, this should create or retain at least 50 jobs. 

"There should be a steady stream of businesses breaking ground soon along the I-49 corridor in the Central St. Landry District," Rodier said. "We should see probably one breaking ground in this area every couple months."

Team Automotive Group of Baton Rouge broke ground on a new dealership, Team Honda of Acadiana, east of I-49 near the Harry Guilbeau Road exit. Preston Peterson, general manager of the Team Automotive Group, said the company had considered creating an Acadiana presence for some time.  

"Being in business just across the Atchafalaya Basin, we know about the growth potential of the entire Acadiana region," Peterson said. "So when it came to site selection for a new store, we wanted to be convenient for customers not only in Lafayette but in the entire Acadiana region."

Raquella Manuel, president and CEO of the St. Landry Chamber of Commerce, said they have already seen a surge in jobs and expansions in St. Landry Parish and she believes this is due in part to the economic development districts.

"The development and implementation of the districts are another sign of the growth flooding down I-49," said Manuel. "These districts, when used effectively, will catalyze the development of new businesses, community projects and the overall economic growth of not just Opelousas but all of St. Landry Parish."

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Business Reporter