Jonathan Booth might seem dramatic when he says this about his company, FlyGuys Drone Service, moving downtown: They are visionaries.

First, some details about the rapidly growing Lafayette company he co-owns with Adam Zayor. It started in 2014 when drone technology was becoming popular and is now connected with 3,500 pilots across the country for jobs that require drone services.

As a member of the national Commercial Drone Alliance, staffers met with the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy to discuss the growing commercial drone industry.

Now as downtown Lafayette is becoming popular, FlyGuys and its 10 employees will soon move into a space at 120 Clinton St.

And Booth? He’s moving downtown, too, in the soon-to-be-constructed Vermilion Lofts one block over.

“I think visionary is the word,” said Booth, 36. “We saw what was going to happen in the drone industry, and we see what’s going to happen downtown. It really seems like we’re getting in on the ground floor. I can’t tell you how excited everybody is.”

That ground floor is going to surface in the coming weeks. The 24-unit Vermilion Lofts at 436 E. Vermilion St. will open soon, as will the 30-unit Buchanan Heights Townhomes at 305 W. Second St. The old federal courthouse with its 68 units is expected to be open by the end of 2020.

Two years after a market study indicated the area could support at least 715 rental units and over 200 other residential properties, here comes the first wave of construction.

And with it will come more people, more opportunity for business and more energy in an area that hasn’t had any significant new construction in years.

“I think you’re going to see properties being purchased in the next few months,” said Anita Begnaud, CEO of the Downtown Development Authority. “I was meeting with a property owner, and they were like, a year ago, the phone was not ringing. About six months ago, the phone started ringing with small businesses and nonprofits interested in relocating downtown.

“Now the phone is ringing. There’s interest from businesses to say, ‘We might want to consider a location downtown.’ That’s a change from six months ago.”

Moving downtown

About the only advertisement architect Stephen Ortego did for his Vermilion Lofts project was hang a banner on the building and put up a website. Fifteen people – which could fill more than half the units available – inquired about leasing.

It’s that demand, he noted, of an urban lifestyle – one that requires less time driving and more time walking to a job and restaurants. His project will have only 11 parking spots behind the building that will be available at an extra cost.

Otherwise, residents can leave their vehicles in Vermilion Street parking garage.

“Young professional want to have an urban, walkable, higher quality of life,” Ortego said. “A lot of those young professionals can’t afford to move to San Francisco. They’re looking to more medium-sized cities that are more affordable. If we don’t respond to that demand in Lafayette, we’re going to fall behind.”

Other details about the building give it more of a downtown feel. Living in the upper floors gets residents away from the noise of the street. And the 3,600-square-foot bottom floor will be lined with clear glass and house two businesses, including his business.

“Windows are more important in a downtown setting,” he said. “It’s eyes on the street. We feel safe. People are having to put their mindset in urban retail rather than suburban retail. It’s something we used to know how to do really well in Lafayette and something we’re having to relearn.”

Over on Jefferson Street, work will pick up at the old federal courthouse when demolition work begins Dec. 7, said E.J. Krampe, one of the developers behind the project. Target date remains to be open by the end of next year.

The mixed-use project is comprised of three buildings that have sat vacant for about 20 years. The bottom floors will have about 18,000 of commercial space, which may not be hard to fill, he said.

“I was pleasantly surprised in the amount of interest in the commercial space,” he said. “Several large businesses, several entertainment venues. Mostly traditional office space and entertainment venues. It’s been a real pleasant surprise.”

Growing up

Downtown is already home to 680 businesses, 111 governmental agencies and nearly 7,000 employees, according to DDA data. It’s also home to 40 restaurants.

But what it doesn’t have is a grocery store, which is high on Booth's wish list. Bradley Cruice, who announced in the spring his planned Handy Stop Market & Café at 444 Jefferson St., wants to fill that void.

“There’s not a day – and this is literally – there’s not a day that goes by that someone doesn’t ask when the grocery store is opening,” he said. “We should see a lot of movement going on in the next couple of weeks.”

It’s also not home to a large-scale residential complex, which could come to the area near the Buchanan Street parking garage. Three developers submitted proposals to build mixed-use developments encompassing either most if not all the block across the street from the old federal courthouse project.

One proposal includes a 10-story mix of affordable and market-rate housing with space for retail stores and a hotel, along with public parking. Others call for multiple seven-story buildings.

Whatever gets built there, Begnaud noted, could be a game-changer in downtown construction.

“It’s a recipe for something really special that can happen,” she said. “It’s going to help the old federal courthouse’s commercial and residential tenants. We haven’t built anything that substantial. It could be the blueprint for the next project and the next project.”

A project that size will also mean more investment downtown from local government. Already planned a small lift station downtown on North Pierce Street that would provide immediate relief before a sewer pump station north of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette gets online in 2026.

How much more city government gets involved will help determine what happens downtown, Ortego said.

“A lot of that is predicated on the city making property investments on infrastructure,” he said. “Sewer, lighting and off-street parking. Just looking at property taxes or even sales taxes collected on materials, it would more than pay for the investment.”

Acadiana Business Today: The Advocate to hold second annual Acadiana Economic Summit Jan. 14; Tickets go on sale today

With apartment buildings opening soon, things may really start happening in downtown Lafayette.

Email Adam Daigle at adaigle@theadvocate.com.