Some economists are predicting another Roaring '20s economy once the coronavirus pandemic ends. When the Spanish flu pandemic ended just after the culmination of World War I, the economy took off like a rocket ship as Americans lived in excess for almost a decade.

Whether or not history will repeat itself a century later is the stuff for debate, but architect/developer Marcel Wisznia and others behind bringing the 177,000-square-foot Trappey’s cannery on the banks of the Vermilion River back to life are banking on another economic explosion when it’s safe to meet in large groups without masks again.

The expansive abandoned development is one of excess. But to developers, it represents a chance to ride a post-pandemic economic tidal wave and build a mixed-use project that will be an entirely new concept in Lafayette when it’s completed, possibly three years from now.

“There is so much pent-up demand,” Wisznia said. “We’re talking three years from now, and we believe we’ll be well on our way back to normalcy at that time. Certain things that people have been unable to do, they will do in excess. Part of that will be going to bars, going to restaurants and having experiences beyond having Zoom calls from home.”

Wisznia and local architect/developer Stephen Ortego hope to start work on the massive development by the end of the year after the group bought the property earlier this month for $1 million, land records show.

It’s very early in the design process for the series of buildings that have stood at that site along the Vermilion River for decades, but they envision something Lafayette has not had in all its years as a city on a river — an actual riverwalk.

“Our goal is to have a brew pub, an outfitter, possibly an outfitter that can launch people in kayaks or pirogues down the river,” Ortego said. “We’re looking at some sort of specialty meat place or boudin place. It’s a lot of space to fill up. It’s going to be a mixed use project — really a riverfront development embracing the river, which is something we just don’t have.”

Ortego noted they first looked at the property in 2014, but now some funding mechanisms are in place to assist in the project. The Trappey’s economic development district, one of five EDDs issued by Lafayette Consolidated Government.

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Each district collects a 2% hotel occupancy tax and another 1% sales tax except the Trappey district, which collects a 2% sales tax. But the amount it gathers is minimal compared to other EDDs established.

Wisznia, who has known Ortego since he was a student at Tulane University, has done similar work in the New Orleans market. One notable project is the The Garage Apartments and Penthouses, a five-story, $49 million development that features an elevator for your vehicle.

“We competed for the right to develop the federal courthouse in downtown (Lafayette), but we commented to the mayor at that time that we were not going to give up searching for opportunities in the community,” Wisznia said. “Even though we’re modern architects, a lot of our work revolves around repurposing older, historic buildings. We’re little guys with big dreams. We have learned to use those incentives as well as anyone in the country — better than most developers and far better than most architects.”

A key detail in the development will be creating access from the Evangeline Thruway. It’s currently accessible only via Guidry Street, a residential city street, but plans include a 500-foot deceleration lane for motorists exiting the highway.

Wisznia said they have begun negotiations with the state Department of Transportation and Development on the request and “it’ll be part of our initial work.”

“We think one of the biggest added values for the property is having access to the Thruway and the visibility from the Thruway,” Ortego said. “This is pretty central in the parish. It’s so close to the airport, so close to downtown, so close to the university. You have the park access. You can walk to Vermilionville.”

Acadiana Business Today: Developers behind Trappey's site want to turn it into riverfront development, 'something we just don't' have'


Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.