News Briefs

Legislating Acadiana tourism, BeauSoleil shuffle, little chance for a UL horse farm and Vermilionville swap and more


In an apparent effort to boost Acadiana tourism while New Orleans rebuilds, state Rep. Sydnie Mae Durand of St. Martin Parish has pre-filed a bill proposing the creation of the Central Acadiana Tourism Development Commission. The eight-member commission would be comprised of one appointed representative from each Acadiana parish and act as an advisory committee to the secretary of the state Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. Funding for the commission ' totaling $985,000 from the state general fund over the next five years ' would go toward establishing an Acadiana office, a staff person working in the state DCRT office in Baton Rouge, and $20,000 annually for professional services.

The bill states, "During this period of economic upheaval produced by two of the greatest natural disasters in American history, it is critical that Louisiana continues to attract tourists from around the world. The Legislature intends to promote tourism in the central Acadiana area in such a manner so as to establish a vital link to the New Orleans area to assist in returning that area to the prominent tourist destination it was prior to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina." The bill is awaiting action by the Committee of Municipal, Parochial and Cultural Affairs. Durand could not be reached for comment. ' Nathan Stubbs


For the first time in nearly a decade, veteran Cajun band BeauSoleil has a new member. Mitch Reed, local fiddler and co-owner of Louisiana Heritage and Gifts, is replacing Al Tharp and has joined the group on bass and fiddle. "Al just bowed out of performing," says bandleader Michael Doucet. The BeauSoleil frontman says Reed will bring youth and vitality to the 30-year-old group. "Mitch is from here," he adds. "It's good to have a fellow Cajun, and I think his enthusiasm is the best thing." Doucet hopes to play more twin fiddle tunes as he did with Bessyl Duhon in the original lineup of the group.

Reed's first appearances in the new lineup will be in New Orleans in April for events surrounding the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, including the reopening of Mulate's central business district location. Locally, BeauSoleil performs at Festival International on Saturday, April 29. ' R. Reese Fuller


The latest land swap suggestion involving UL Lafayette's horse farm has a snowball's chance in hell, but desperate times called for desperate measures ' hence the impetus for an ill-conceived exchange with struggling tourist attraction Vermilionville.

Lafayette Consolidated Government President Joey Durel, who hopes to turn the horse farm into a recreational park, had advocated an exchange with Vermilionville, which was founded by the Lafayette Parish Bayou Vermilion District as a living history museum in 1990.

But before Durel even had an opportunity to make a formal proposal to the BVD's board, UL President Ray Authement shot down the concept in an e-mail to The Independent Weekly. Under Durel's plan, the BVD would have taken over the horse farm acreage.

"Vermilionville doesn't solve our land problem," Authement says. "We are willing to consider operating Vermilionville but not to swap."

The university's Center for Cultural and Eco-Tourism, as well as its architecture, interior design, history, language, performing arts and hospitality curriculums have some interest in using the facility. Vermilionville is a Cajun/Creole heritage and folk life park that re-creates life in Acadiana from 1765 to 1890.

The BVD owns the buildings, and LCG owns the 25 acres. A special taxing district, the BVD works to improve and beautify the river to promote it as a recreational and cultural asset. It also subsidizes Vermilionville ' of the $720,000 from a property tax millage in 2005, $212,000 went to the tourist attraction. The millage is up for renewal this July, and the BVD has made no secret of its wishes to wash its hands of the troubled museum.

In fact, Eddie Cazayoux, former director of UL's School of Architecture and president of the nonprofit Vermilionville Foundation, says he struck a deal with the BVD about a year ago for the university to take over the buildings and artifacts. The arrangement includes a pledge from BVD to provide 10 additional years of the subsidy. "We've been working hard to get state funding to do this," Cazayoux says.

"I am someone who wants to see Vermilionville reach its potential, which it will never do under [BVD]," says the respected architect and preservationist.

The funding crunch created by the recent hurricanes led Cazayoux to Durel, whom the architect thought would include the Vermilionville acreage in an LCG package of properties to exchange for the horse farm. Cazayoux questions why BVD would ever get the horse farm.

With Authement now saying he's not interested in a swap, the university would have to lease the property from LCG.

Cazayoux says Authement believes it would take about $400,000 annually for Vermilionville to come into the university's system; with state funding unfeasible at present, the monies would have to come from either a millage increase or a larger BVD funding pledge.

Last year Authement proposed exchanging about 36 acres of the 100-acre horse farm property for attorney Jimmy Davidson's 4-acre Girard Park property ' both of which he initially said were worth $3.25 million. That deal ' at best ' is on life support, though Authement maintains he still plans to buy the nearby Davidson land to expand his campus. A new appraisal of the Davidson property, ordered by the Board of Supervisors for the UL system, is under way.

This newest proposal involving Vermilionville was one issue discussed at a March 27 meeting involving the Save the Horse Farm community activist group, Durel, Authement, Cazayoux, BVD, the Nature Conservancy, and other interested parties. Authement, widely criticized for the initial proposal, insisted the media not be present.

Pat McDonald, who withdrew as a member of the university's alumni association late last year to protest the inequity of the original land swap (and the alumni board's purchase of an ad in the daily paper to support it), isn't at all surprised at Authement's position.

"Doc didn't really seem all that interested," says McDonald, who attended the March 27 meeting. "He didn't seem interested in anything. The community has really spoken on this issue, and I don't get the feeling Doc much cares. After Joey left, he said he wasn't interested in saving the horse farm, [that] he was interested in saving the university."

Durel, however, was taken aback that Authement has already shot down the initiative. "[That's] news to me," he says.

Despite the setback, the city-parish president maintains his commitment. "We will just switch gears and continue to try to find a solution," Durel says. ' Leslie Turk


Opponents are circling their wagons as the Legislature starts to consider a number of bills that could dramatically change Louisiana's Tuition Opportunity Program for Students, the scholarship program that helps Louisiana high school students pay tuition at state universities. Some lawmakers want to add additional requirements to TOPS, while others want to turn it into a loan forgiveness program. Joseph Savoie, the commissioner of higher education, has been circulating data bolstering the program, pointing to higher access rates for college, student readiness and other factors. "These results should be weighed heavily by the Legislature when considering any potential changes to TOPS," he says. Lawmakers in the Republican Delegation have also taken up the cause, claiming the bills "undermine" what should be a real priority. "The TOPS program goes a long way to ensure that the best and brightest for Louisiana's future stay right here at home ' something we plan to fight for," the delegation declared in a recent release. The issue could be one of the big sleeper debates of the session. ' Jeremy Alford