A rezoning notice is displayed at the lot in the 300 block of Monroe Street where the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority plans to develop a multi-family residential complex is pictured Tuesday, February 12, 2019, in Lafayette, La.

The Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority’s plans to build an apartment complex on Monroe Street have ballooned, with the number of units nearly doubling over the past year. The Financing Authority now aims to build 70 market-rate units, representing about one third of the combined total of five projects planned in and around downtown Lafayette.

That brings to 202 the number of units known to be in early stages of planning and development. About half of the planned units, including those on Monroe Street, are within one block of each other near the northern edge of downtown. Construction on the 30-unit Buchanan Heights development on Second Street began last week.

Another 68 units are planned for the Old Federal Courthouse site, and two dozen more expected as part of the Vermilion Lofts at 436 E. Vermilion St. The buyers of a derelict building at 600 Johnston St. have said they are planning to build 10 units at that location. 

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The projects are cheered by those working to fill empty storefronts along Jefferson Street, who say otherwise interested developers and retail businesses are holding back because of a lack of downtown residents.

“I’m very excited. I will be specifically mentioning those developments,” said Mark Van Eaton, a real estate broker who is listing multiple properties along Jefferson Street, referring to his pitches to investors. “We need those (residents) down there before it really starts to trickle into the commercial picking up.”

Multiple analyses commissioned by the Financing Authority suggest ample demand for downtown housing, but the scale-up in the Monroe Street project was primarily driven by financing concerns, not demand, said Rebekke Miller, the authority’s coordinator.

Plans have been revised from 38 to 70 units since early last year to increase the likelihood of obtaining a federally insured loan for market-rate, multifamily developments that would spread payments over 40 years, Miller said. The estimated cost of the project is $10 million. 

The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development insured mortgages for 192 projects with an average value of $15.1 million in 2015, the most recent year noted on HUD’s website for the loan program.

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“I’m definitely not taking it for granted,” Miller said of the prospects for HUD approval.

Miller said she expects to learn of HUD’s decision this spring, and, if approved, the project could break ground this summer. A development team led by Vintage Realty Co. was selected in September, but contracts won't be finalized until financing is in place, Miller said. 

A BBG, Inc. market study completed this month for the Financing Authority predicted 65 of the 70 would be leased within four months of construction completion, tentatively penciled in for April 2021. A Zimmerman Volk Associates, Inc. study in 2017, also commissioned by the Financing Authority, determined that downtown Lafayette could support as many as 1,135 additional market-rate apartments and condominiums.

Real estate agent Rex Moroux, who is listing the former Home Bank building on Jefferson Street — one of the most conspicuous downtown vacancies — said plans for residential development downtown is already heating up interest from prospective tenants.

“The excitement around the future residential units is palpable with everybody I speak to,” Moroux said.

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