Bayou Walk gets mixed reviews

Kudzu-like grass causing havoc in Bayou Lafourche
November 21, 2006
Mary Guidry
November 24, 2006
Kudzu-like grass causing havoc in Bayou Lafourche
November 21, 2006
Mary Guidry
November 24, 2006

A project to give downtown Houma a facelift is meeting some criticism from local business owners, an obstacle that may complicate construction.

GSE and Associates, Inc., President Arthur DeFraites, who has been contracted for the Bayou Walk project, presented project specifications to the Terrebonne Parish Council during the last week’s regular meeting.

Bayou Walk is a $3.4 million scenic treatment project that will occur along Bayou Terrebonne, running from Barataria Street to New Orleans Boulevard, providing some 3,000 feet of walkway to attract visitors downtown, according to DeFraites.

A 60-40 match between state and parish governments supports project funding, with Terrebonne Parish responsible for $1.36 million of the total budget.

“The thinking behind [the project] is to gradually make improvements that would facilitate the revitalization and growth of downtown Houma,” said Councilman Harold Lapeyre of District 6.

According to Lapeyre, projects like Terrebonne Parish Government’s consolidation of the Bank One building, the expansion of Terrebonne General Medical Center’s Cardiovascular Institute, and many law firms refurbishing vacant buildings have all been new additions made to bring new energy to the downtown area.

Some argue that the Bayou Walk will only extenuate the city’s crime and drug culture. Johnny Stassi of Big Fish Productions, located at the west end of the proposed Bayou Walk, said that without proper police enforcement, the area will become another hangout for Houma’s “crack addicts, prostitutes and homeless people.”

Stassi, who underwent back surgery and could not physically attend the meeting, sent a pre-recorded video documenting his objection.

“My biggest concern is that we just don’t need it,” he said. “The police can’t patrol downtown as it is. The police are doing a good job, but they just don’t have enough patrols.”

Over the last year, Stassi had to replace his street-side windows twice because of vandalism.

DeFraites said that obtaining the right-of-way from business owners along Bayou Terrebonne would more than likely be the crux of opposition to the project, since repairing and adding bulkheads will take place behind the businesses.

Besides consequences related to an upsurge in crime, the noise from machines will interfere with businesses, said Stassi.

“I tape two shows a week, we’re taping everyday and I can barely deal with the noise from the traffic. With construction in the back, I will be shut down,” he said.

In addition to bulkhead work, the $2.74 million of construction costs, includes raising and stabilizing the bayou bank, building pedestrian walkways created with pavers, adding lighting and benches and removing and replacing trees.

New FEMA elevation specifications require the embankment to be raised from five feet to six feet, said DeFraites.

Telephone and electric wires that currently run throughout downtown will be placed underground to clean up the business area.

If all goes accordingly, DeFraites said construction will begin spring of 2007.

Stassi believes that the $3 million could be spent on other items in greater need, such as drainage and levees, but Councilman Peter Rhodes clarified that the money is designated strictly for downtown development and cannot be used for levees.

“Some people are justifying this project by saying that it worked for San Antonio or Santa Fe, but we just don’t have the right [environment] for it. There is too much traffic, not enough parking and it’s not safe to walk downtown,” Stassi said.

Lepeyre believes otherwise, however.

“Whether or not it [Bayou Walk] will be totally successful, only time will tell,” the councilman said.

But Stassi is holding firm. Convinced that business owners would not economically benefit from Bayou Walk, Stassi said overall costs, like higher crime rates reducing property value and owners paying to fix-up property along Bayou Terrebonne, would outweigh benefits of the project.

“There hasn’t been a study conducted that supports the theory that it would help businesses economically,” he said.

The council authorized DeFraites continuing with the design and engineering by a unanimous vote at last Wednesday’s council meeting, but councilwoman Christa Duplantis of District 5 asked GSE to be certain that all legalities that go along with building along private property, such as obtaining right-of-ways, be taken care of first.

Stassi was the only business owner who did object to the project during the council meeting.

“There are people out there [who object] and they won’t say anything and it really upsets me, and a lot of owners, when I ask them about the project, don’t know anything about it.”

Photo provided by Arthur DeFraites/ GSE and Associates, Inc., has been contracted to build a scenic treatment Bayou Walk in Houma. The $3.4 million project would stretch across Bayou Lafourche along Barataria Street to New Orleans Boulevard. But at least one local businessman said the money could be better spent.