July 18, 2017 11:54 AM

James Moncus
Photo by Robin May

IND Media and Moncus Park will forever share a moment in Lafayette’s history, one that turned the power of journalism and community activism into a great public space.

In September 2005, ABiz sister publication The Independent broke the story of a suspect land-swap deal involving a portion of the Johnston Street acreage, then owned by UL Lafayette and known as the UL Horse Farm, and residential property on Girard Park Drive held by Lafayette attorney Jimmy Davidson. As part of that proposed swap of properties, some of the most pristine acreage in the middle of the city would have been turned into yet another Johnston Street eyesore of commercial development.

Through numerous investigative stories, the paper revealed the vast discrepancies between the two property values, ultimately successfully suing the university for access to a new, independent appraisal of the Davidson property that reflected a much lower value than the one used in the swap.

The paper’s enterprise reporting (it went on to win prestigious state and national Freedom of Information awards for the series), combined with the tenacious activism of the grassroots group Save the Horse Farm, resulted in the university calling off the proposed swap. The land ultimately was purchased by the city under then-Mayor Joey Durel and leased in 2013 to Lafayette Central Park, a nonprofit created to begin raising money to design and construct the park and create a fund for its perpetual maintenance.

That was then.

This is now.

Thanks in large part to the ever-growing generosity of Lafayette businessman James Moncus, the largest single donor for whom the park has been named, work on Phase 1 will begin late this year. Construction has been delayed for several months after capital outlay funding failed to materialize, an unfortunate development that lit yet another fire under Moncus, who ponied up an additional $1.5 million to get work started on the initial phase, which includes the farmer’s market pavilion, mini-golf, a carousel, a dog park, a pond, walking trails, gardens and tree houses. The first phase also puts into place infrastructure like an entry drive on Johnston Street, a new two-way bridge over the coulee, a parking lot and sidewalks along Johnston.

But there’s more. Like they did in 2015, Dr. Kip Schumacher and his wife, Carolyn Doerle Schumacher, have issued a half-million-dollar matching fund challenge through the end of 2017.

ABiz has decided to do its part this year by donating half of the ticket sales for the Top 50 luncheon on Aug. 16 to help fund Phase I. That means the Schumacher pledge will double our contribution — and any donation readers want to make before the end of the year, which they can do online at lafayettecentralpark.org/donate or by emailing donate@lafayettecentralpark.org.

The luncheon, held at the Cajundome Convention Center, honors the largest companies in Acadiana, ranked by revenue, along with the nine publicly traded companies headquartered in the region. To purchase tickets, click here.

ABiz would like to make the Top 50 luncheon an annual fundraiser for Moncus Park, but the future of the business event is uncertain. Last month our parent company, IND Media, announced that it is suspending current operations and researching new models to fund the in-depth business reporting and investigative journalism — much like its “Save the Horse Farm” reporting — that has become its stock in trade. The media group will suspend the print publication of ABiz after this Top 50 issue.

“As IND Media winds down its operations and produces the last monthly edition of ABiz, we see an opportunity to help a cause that will be a big part of the legacy of our reporting,” says Co-Publisher Cherry Fisher May. “It is a natural partnership for us, and it would be great if the Top 50 could continue to benefit the cause through a different format. The park is the type of quality of life project that will benefit business development in Lafayette for current and future generations, and we hope each one of the Top 50 companies will embrace the opportunity to play role in its success.”

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