Horse Farm lease law exemption bill moves to House floor

by Leslie Turk

State Rep. Joel Robideaux's bill, which could help expedite a formal parking agreement with South College Shopping Center, is set for debate on the House floor Monday.

State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, has filed legislation on behalf of Lafayette Consolidated Government that would exempt the Horse Farm property from the state's public lease law - a move that could expedite a formal parking agreement with South College Shopping Center.

LCG attorney Michael Hebert says House Bill 992 was drafted to prevent unnecessary delays and expenses pertaining to the development of a central park at the 100-acre Horse Farm.

The Lafayette City-Parish Council purchased the 100-acre site from UL Lafayette and later entered into a lease agreement with Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit responsible for fundraising and design of the park.

Current law requires that if a local government wants to lease land to a private entity, it has to go through a competitive public lease process that includes advertising and legal expenses.

City-Parish President Joey Durel cites the Lafayette General parking garage as one example of the burdens behind the public lease process. He says when the hospital wanted to lease city-owned land to build a parking garage, the city had to pay for advertising and legal expenses to allow anyone to bid on the chance to build the garage, even though no other entity had an interest in doing so.

Hebert says the Landrys, who own the shopping center adjacent to the Horse Farm, have been "very accommodating" to the Horse Farm effort by allowing people to park in their lot and enter the Horse Farm through their privately owned property.

He says there is potential for future formal parking arrangements that could involve a public lease, which under current law would have to go through the public bidding process.

"It just seems to us as though continuing to force public lease law against future transactions with the Horse Farm would mean delays and expenses, because lease has been awarded to Lafayette Central Park through a competitive lease process," Hebert says.

Robideaux's bill passed unanimously in the Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs Committee and is set for debate on the House floor Monday.

Both Hebert and Durel note that any transaction involving city-owned property will still have to go through public hearings and City-Parish Council ordinance procedures.

"So there is absolutely no loss of any transparency whatsoever," Durel says. "Transparency is something very important to myself, the council, and the Lafayette Central Park board."