TONIGHT: How to make Lafayette a ’Sociable City’

by Christiaan Mader

A nightlife development guru will discuss strategies to unlock Downtown's potential as a center of social economy at a public meeting tonight.

Vacant nightlife properties, like The Plaza on Jefferson Street, are an unintended consequence of a 13-year-old moratorium on new bars in Downtown. Updated permitting strategies could bring new blood to Jefferson Street.
Photo by Robin May

Renowned urban nightlife expert Jim Peters will discuss how Lafayette can take steps to improve its hospitality economy Tuesday (tonight) at 5:30 p.m. at Warehouse 535. The talk and public forum, hosted by Lafayette Consolidated Government, Downtown Lafayette Unlimited and non-profit The Knowledge Effect, is part of ongoing public engagement about how to create a more fertile hospitality economy. Topics of discussion will include public safety and the now-controversial Downtown moratorium on new bars.

The moratorium will likely loom in the public discussion following Peters’ talk. But input from public workshops held earlier this spring indicated that, for Downtown stakeholders, the issue is much more complex than that. Public safety, protecting current Downtown establishments, attracting retailers, residences and a generally more diversified economy all factor into a very complicated topic.

“There’s a sense that we could do a better job managing the existing establishments, and maybe we don’t have the right tools in place,” says Carlee Alm-LaBar, LCG’s director of Planning, Zoning and Development. “What Jim says is when you look at these districts then you need to at it like an ecosystem. He looks at it as a complex problem and tries to figure out both micro and macro solutions.”

Peters and his nonprofit Responsible Hospitality Institute popularized the concepts of Sociable Cities and Hospitality Zones, which have become buzz words in the urban development world. Generally speaking, Peters argues that multi-use entertainment districts, which he calls Hospitality Zones, are vital economic engines that make cities more "Sociable." A Sociable City uses nightlife districts to attract talent, energize its population and create a high quality life through the proliferation of social experiences in shared spaces.

No doubt Lafayette has had little trouble with energy and nightlife over the years, but we’ve generally looked at Downtown through bar-colored glasses. Back in the early 2000s, the bar scene Downtown exploded to the point that city leaders panicked in the face of a Downtown that could drown under a sea of go-cups. Thus was born the now infamous Downtown bar moratorium, passed in 2003, which tied bar permits to building addresses. That means if you want to open a bar in Downtown, you have to open it in a location that already has a bar license.

Lafayette’s moratorium was a short-term solution, and it worked in the short term. Bar proliferation sobered up, and Jefferson Street retained its dignity for the following decade. But of late, some have begun to question the value of the moratorium. The city-parish council has looked into creative permitting tools, known as Conditional Use Permits, to side-step the problem. Work-shopping the use of CUPs with Downtown constituents led to the wide-ranging discussion of issues facing nightlife development in the district.

No doubt, Peters will weigh in on the moratorium. At an urban development conference in New Orleans earlier this year, which The IND attended, Peters criticized moratorium strategies as problematic for long-term growth and vitality. But Peters’ expertise and interests expand well beyond zoning and permitting considerations. His organization has long been involved in advocacy for responsible beverage vending practices and innovating new policing and safety strategies that foster successful entertainment districts.

Tonight’s meeting, called “Becoming a Sociable City & Enhancing the Nightlife Industry” is from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. It’s free and open to the public.