Five candidates for Lafayette mayor-president, in a Tuesday forum sponsored by Downtown Lafayette, agreed improving infrastructure and creating jobs are top issues for the city center. They disagreed to some extent on how to do that.

Downtown Development Authority CEO Anita Begnaud, who moderated the forum, said downtown Lafayette has lost development because it lacks sewer capacity. A study, she said, suggests a demand for additional retail space and 1,000 housing units. But Lafayette Consolidated Government and Lafayette Utilities System have not invested in downtown in years and only have long-term plans to address the problems, she said.

Candidate Carlee Alm-LaBar said critical needs like sewage can be addressed faster with private-public partnerships. One of the reasons she fought for passage of the December 2018 charter amendment to create a separate city council was so city officials can focus on issues like reinvestment. Downtown, she said, is a good place for government to address projects with a good return on tax dollar investment.

Simone Champagne said she can't wave a magic wand and immediately improve sewage capacity downtown. But she can make sure she's at the table for discussions about it and make sure when capacity is expanded, it goes beyond the next few years and adresses anticipated future needs.

Josh Guillory said LUS' 5- to 7-year plan for improving sewage downtown needs to be accelerated. All infrastructure, he said, needs to be a priority. He said he will prioritize the budget to address needs like infrastructure first.

Carlos Harvin said LCG is not investing enough in downtown, which is part of an Opportunity Zone, which can attract development from the private sector.

Nancy Marcotte said she'll use her leadership skills to expedite sewage improvements downtown. Throughout the forum, Marcotte emphasized the need to create more parking downtown before adding businesses or residences.

The candidates split on whether they will continue to fund arts and culture programs and events downtown, including Festival International.

Champagne said arts and culture are important and organizations will have to apply every year for funding from LCG. It's more important, she said, to fund needs such as drainage first.

Marcotte said she would apply a cost-benefit analysis to each group seeking funding and would encourage private partnerships to fund arts and cultural events.

Citizens, not government, created the culture of the city, Guillory said. Every decision on funding will be based, he said, on its return on investment of tax dollars.

Alm-LaBar said she would continue to work with arts and cultural organizations, but also look at what they bring to the community.

Culture and art, including the city's music and food, bring residents and visitors, Harvin said. He will work with Downtown Development on how those are funded.

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