Kevin Blanchard is the CEO of the Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited. He was previously the executive director of the Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority, which participates in community development investments and financing that benefit the City of Lafayette.
As an attorney and former journalist, Blanchard was named?Lafayette Parish Bar Association’s Outstanding Young Lawyer in 2014.?From 2015 to 2020, he was chief operating officer for Southern Lifestyle Development, a real estate development company based in Lafayette. Kevin worked for former Mayor-President Joey Durel as both chief development officer and public works director.
His civic involvement has included being chair of the Leadership Institute of Acadiana as well as leading the citizen’s committee that drove the development of Lafayette’s first comprehensive plan. In 2018 he helped lead a successful effort to amend the Lafayette City-Parish Charter to provide for a separate City Council for the City of Lafayette. His wife, Heather, is the President & CEO of the United Way of Acadiana. They have three daughters: a freshman at LSU, a freshman at Louisiana Tech and a sophomore?at Lafayette High.
As the newly appointed CEO of the?the Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited, what are some of your goals for the position??
With downtown Lafayette, historically, our infrastructure has served as a moat between downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods. Downtown, Johnston Street, Congress and University make this four-way infrastructure highway that has acted as a barrier. There's been a lot of good work that's happened in the past to break than down, but those are sometimes more than just physical barriers.?
A few years ago the city started work along the Evangeline Thruway corridor, and we've been doing a lot of grassroots efforts at LPTFA — asking people what types of investments they'd like to see there. One of my focuses is to not only be an advocate for downtown, but to make sure that we all understand that we're in the same boat here?— investments, no matter what side of Johnson Street they're on, are helping all of us.??
Another area of focus is going to be reestablishing the value proposition for everyone downtown. I want to make sure that we're reaching out and making downtown the place where everyone feels that there's something there for them?— no matter how old you are, your background, your interests, whether you're looking for a place to live or rent, shop or have an office.?
I want to make sure that we're not just narrowly focused on one segment of the market, that we're truly making an effort to branch out and meet everyone where they're at.?
What was your position at Lafayette Public Trust Financing Authority??
I've been the executive director, and I was there for four years. We conducted community-oriented investments and financing?— in fact, we just opened a 70-unit apartment complex right on the edge of downtown. We renovated an old historic warehouse for a tech company that moved here from San Francisco that will employ about 150 people again.?
A lot of the work I did there was across the city of Lafayette, and it involved the core of the city and downtown. That's why I'll approach this job at?Downtown Development Authority and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited with a broader view of what downtown means from a geographic perspective. I've been a big fan and proponent of downtown but from the outside looking in. I can see the potential of making a better connection between the neighborhoods and downtown.?
Other than that, I've developed real estate, worked for the mayor's office here, and I used to be a reporter.?
Have have you used the skills you learned as a reporter to get to this position??
I've gotten opportunities at every turn to take a new step in my career and take the experiences that I had to work on something I found inspiring.?
I went from journalism to law school, and after law school I was able to get into civic involvement, which led me to being able to work for the city. I've seen a lot of the issues that are happening in our city from a lot of different angles, and I think that's been an operation of pure luck.?
To get really philosophical, that's what life is, right? The moment you're in today is a culmination of whatever you've been up to before then. I've been really lucky that the pieces have seemed to have fallen in place in a way that when you look back it's like, "Oh, that's as if that was a plan."?
Why is downtown development important?
The core of our city, of any city, really, is the best depiction of how we used to build communities together as people. It wasn't until the '50s, '60s and '70s when we started building highways and interstates?— we started building our lives and developments around cars with cul-de-sac subdivisions and strip malls.?
I truly believe that people are happier, more set up for success and have a more fulfilling life when they're in an environment where they have better housing choices with the ability to walk and can see their friends and neighbors more readily and easily without getting into a car?— without the hourlong commute.?
Downtown, and the neighborhoods around downtown, is the epitome of that.?
As the chief operating officer for Southern Lifestyle Development, we developed traditional neighborhood developments where the selling point was residential and retail uses, commercial uses, greenspace, parking and walkability. All we were doing was copying the development patterns of the per-interstate era, ones that developed organically. Ultimately, they provide the best value to people.??
When done well, people are happier and healthier when they're in an environment like a downtown. I want to be there to help lead that in Lafayette.?