New programs that could help spur growth and revitalization on the north side of Lafayette were announced Wednesday by local economic development organizations and civic leaders at a "Northfest of Ideas."
Most notable was an initiative announced by Lafayette Economic Development Authority President and CEO Gregg Gothreaux. The Opportunity Machine, LEDA's small business incubator, will launch its highly successful Small Business Boot Camp on the north side of the city. In addition, he said, LEDA has requested state funding that, if approved, would pay for renovations of Opportunity Machine's new headquarters located at 314 Jefferson St.
"LEDA made a capital outlay request to cover the cost of the new OM space at 314 Jefferson St. If LEDA receives our requested capital outlay, I'm announcing that a portion of those funds will be dedicated to an outreach center to work with businesses in the gateway area and innovation districts," Gothreaux said. "It will seek out candidates to play a prominent role in the outreach center who look like, who have the heart of and who are dedicated to the area as they are."
Gothreaux said that because the request is being facilitated by State Sen. Gerald Boudreaux and State Rep. Vincent Pierre, that the center would be in their district in north Lafayette. He added that LEDA would also be working with community stakeholders to identify prospective north Lafayette companies while also working on creating a report focused on filling gaps in the local business space.
"There are local entrepreneurs that can fill these voids. We want to start local. Everybody gets excited for national brands, and they're important, but we want local people to have the opportunity to get started and fill these voids," Gothreaux said.
Gothreaux was joined by representatives of other economic and planning groups such as Acadiana Planning Commission, One Acadiana and the Upper Lafayette Economic Development Foundation in showing their support for the various initiatives The POD Group — Pride Opportunity Developers — is currently raising around $20 million capital to pursue in north Lafayette. They are seeking investors as part of the national Opportunity Zone initiative.
Some of their ideas include converting the empty Walmart on Evangeline Thruway into an indoor hemp-growing and facility that could bring 200 new jobs and support 300 more ancillary jobs; 85 new housing units; a mixed-use development at the old Pride Plaza medical building; and a 90-unit hotel/convention center at the site of the old Royal Inn, 1801 NW Evangeline Thruway, that could also serve as a state welcome center.
Community members also participated in the "Northfest of Ideas." Many said the presentations erased some of their initial skepticism about the feasibility of the group's plans.
"What we've done today is gather together our stakeholders and strategic partners to have discussions on how to finance these hard-to-finance deals to redevelop north Lafayette," said John Ford, president and COO of the POD Group. "We have to have these types of conversations and come together collectively if we're going to institute change in our community. Not having these conversations actually hurts us."
The community discussions and eventual plans are made possible through the Opportunity Zone concept. The northside of Lafayette falls in U.S. Census tract 11, among the seven tracts in Lafayette designated as Opportunity Zones, which offer tax incentives to companies and individuals willing to invest in a distressed area. Other Opportunity Zones include the Oil Center, the University Avenue corridor, downtown and the industrial park on Pont Des Mouton Road.
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