The essential: With a hastily filled request, the Lafayette Consolidated Government met the November 1 capital expenditure request deadline, asking the state to help fund a $127 million replacement for the Heymann Performing Arts. Center in the next budget cycle.
Catch up, quickly. Landlocked General Ochsner Lafayette wants to buy the 61-year-old Heymann Performing Arts Center, which is sandwiched between properties he owns in the Oil Center. Since this summer, former mayor-president Joël Robideaux, who works as a lobbyist for Ochsner (one of his three main clients), has been convening meetings of a group of community stakeholders to discuss the project. It is unclear who asked Robideaux, who did not respond to requests for comment, to reunite the group.
Members of the Stakeholder Committee include Acadiana Center for the Arts Executive Director Sam Oliver, Mayor-President Josh Guillory, UL President Joe Savoie, PASA Executive Director Jackie Lyle, Conservative radio host Carol Ross, Publicity Director Paul Eason, Park, Arts, Recreation and Cultural Director Hollis Conway and representatives from LPSS and the Heymann Center.
Slowly then suddenly. Discussions of a new Heymann have been circulating for at least a decade. But the task force convened by Robideaux moved quickly to take advantage of the favorable conditions of the Legislature. A potential citywide sales tax proposed in the request to the state would tentatively be passed in 2022, but by the time the request was submitted Oct. 27, no member of the Lafayette City Council, who is expected to agree to send the measure to a public vote, had participated in the discussions. This local match is essential for state funding to be granted. And while the funding stack presented in the LCG application contemplates a local sales tax, the “no” box is inexplicably checked when asked if local funding would be brought to an election. The form also suggests a 5,000-seat facility, nearly double the size of the current facility and what the community group discussed, among other dubious claims.
Executive director Cydra Wingerter, who signed the application and is part of the community stakeholder group, did not respond to a request for comment.
Move forward, temporarily? Robideaux and others have called the group “informal” and its plans incomplete, but they are nonetheless pushing for funding with the down payment request.
A memo Oliver wrote Oct. 25, which he wrote to summarize the group’s discussions for use in an upcoming feasibility study, envisions a roughly $100 million facility with 2,200 to 3,000 seats that would be funded by state dollars and a temporary sales tax in the city (similar to the church tax that funded the new airport terminal). Operations and maintenance, estimated at $1.6 million per year in a 2011 study conducted for UL, is expected to be subsidized by approximately $700,000 per year, potentially funded through a capital campaign to create an endowment of $25 million.
“It’s still very, very tentative …I’m not sure $127 million [in LCG’s request to the state] is an accurate number at this point or just kind of a high number so as not to underestimate the total project,” says Senate President Page Cortez de Lafayette, who submitted a November 1 letter to the Division of administration supporting the addition of the project to the 2022-2023 capital budget. “Investment requests are kind of the cart before the horse, so to speak. A request does not necessarily include it in the bill,” he says. (Follow the application process here.)
Cortez, who is close friends with Robideaux, says he and state Rep. Stuart Bishop (chairman of Ways and Means) attended the community stakeholder group’s first meeting via Zoom this summer and agreed to support the project on the legislative level if almost everyone could come together on it. “I wanted to make sure [it included] all stakeholders, from the university to the public school system to dance schools, the Acadiana Center for the Arts, the Symphony Orchestra, PASA,” says Cortez. “Everyone needs to come in.”
That, to some extent, happened this week. More than a dozen people joined the community group at Monday’s meeting at the Heymann Center, including representatives from City Council (Nanette Cook), Downtown, LEDA, Symphony, Lafayette Ballet Theater and of the LCVC. “I think it should go up even more if it gets serious,” Cortez says.
Preliminary numbers in the state application do not match. While the capital expenditure request pegs a potential new center at $127 million — far more than the figure listed in Oliver’s memo — it only stipulates state and local funding totaling $76 million. Wingerter is asking the state for $45.5 million over two years and suggests that a temporary sales tax in the city of Lafayette would generate $30.5 million. This leaves a funding gap of approximately $50 million.
“The answer on where the rest [of the dollars] would come from, I don’t know if it would be a donation or if it would use some of the proceeds from the sale of a property, so there could be a number of different financing options,” explains Cortez.
And after? So much about the potential project remains up in the air, including where to put it. LEDA agreed to fund a feasibility study, which would essentially be an update of an outdated 2011 financial and market feasibility study conducted by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International. This firm evaluated the new core portion of UL’s University Commons development near the Cajundome. (Read the 2011 CSL study beginning on page 129 of the master plan appendix.)
LEDA CEO Mandi Mitchell told The Current that CSL International will conduct an in-depth study which will include market demand analysis, site analysis, economic and fiscal impact analysis and an assessment of security scenarios. funding. “We envision the site analysis to include an in-depth assessment of several sites in the community,” says Mitchell.
“The capital expenditure bill isn’t going to put anything into it without local participation,” Cortez said. “The probability that [the project will] happen is based on what is happening locally, from public bodies, be it the parish council or the town council. And it would probably be the two who would have to make decisions about whether they wanted to go ahead with a formula like the airport formula.
This story has been edited to include Rep. Bishop’s position as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.