In the eight months she has been on the job since beginning in October 2018, Anita Begnaud has proven herself to be an inspirational catalyst for getting things done. As CEO of Downtown Development Authority, her role is to facilitate the development of downtown Lafayette by attracting new amenities, buildings, developments, jobs, and residents.
Anita’s high energy, ability to connect with people and attention to detail have proven to be a winning combination as downtown is poised for explosive growth in the coming years. Her work experience includes stints at Lafayette Economic Development Authority, Acadiana Economic Development, IBERIABANK, and One Acadiana, all of which taught her how to navigate governmental relations, social media marketing, and economic development issues.
The Authority is funded with property tax millages assessed on commercial buildings within the district, with a budget of approximately $450,000 per year. While DDA doesn’t have the means to buy buildings or build infrastructure, its work encompasses all the intangible efforts to spearhead Lafayette’s downtown revitalization and continued growth.
DDA is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors with attorney Miles Matt serving as President, attorney Lisa Thomas serving as Secretary, along with board members Mike Delcambre, Ross Fontenot, Jim Keaty, Gus Rezende, and Greg Walls.
Recent announcements of companies adding staff to downtown Lafayette such as Waitr (200 jobs), the Opportunity Machine (80 plus emerging companies), and other established companies such as Perficient, have proven that the urban core of Lafayette is a desirable location for a variety of businesses. It is also the hub of Lafayette’s legal community with the state and federal courthouses and law firms populating the area.
DDA’s focus over the next couple of years will be attracting “jobs and rooftops,” as people increasingly want to be able to live close to where they work. Rather than commuting into work and leaving at 5 p.m., there is a pressing demand for residences to accommodate the growing number of diverse jobs populating the downtown area. This translates into a growing need for more retail, grocery stores, and of course, adequate parking.
Throughout the interview, Anita referenced two documents that provide guidelines for growth and building downtown. The Downtown Lafayette Action Plan sets forth a comprehensive vision for how downtown can be enhanced to provide the option of high-quality city living and thus leveraged as a benefit for the entire region. The plan sets forth specific recommendations, based upon community input, to improve public spaces and parking, analyzing returns on infrastructure investment to ensure the highest transactional benefit to the entire community, enabling a transit loop to UL-Lafayette and back, and many more initiatives. The second document, the Downtown Lafayette Code interfaces with the Unified Development Code and directly governs building restrictions.
The DDA hosts a monthly Lunch and Learn series which educates on issues facing downtown. The next luncheon will be held on July 24, 2019, 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and focuses on “Accessibility” as many downtown sidewalks are not accessible to the disabled. Tickets may be obtained here. The August luncheon will focus on “Safety” and the enhanced security measures being undertaken such as an increase in the number of police officers patrolling the area.
Facade Improvement Grants have helped small businesses in the downtown district to improve storefronts. An example is Rukus Board Shop which received funding assistance to install an awning and create new signage. These types of grants are utilized by business districts throughout the U. S. and are proven to help small business owners stay in business as they are enabled to improve their storefront.
When asked what Anita’s dream is for downtown, she spoke about the need for a 100 room hotel that could accommodate conventions and festival attendees. There is also a desire for an anchor retail tenant to serve as a draw for shoppers. Of current interest in 2019 is what will come of the Buchanan Street Parking Garage near the state courthouse which was shut down in 2018 due to safety issues; bids have been received from four developers and vary from simply refurbishing the garage to turning it into a mixed-use facility with hotel, residential and office components.
For more information on what DDA is doing today to plan for the kind of town we want in the next 20 to 50 years, please visit http://www.developlafayette.com.
Thanks to Anita Begnaud for her service and for a highly engaging interview!