Development along the Interstate 10 and Highway 90 corridors in St. Martin Parish didn’t just happen. It was planned.
In 1998, the only businesses at the Breaux Bridge exit on I-10 were the Pilot Truck Stop and the Sona Inn. Now the intersection is booming. Although the Wal-Mart Super Center might be the most obvious sign, many other businesses have cropped up, including the development of the former Stine Lumber Yard location into the recently expanded Doug Ashy Lumber Center.
The growth is having a ripple effect, reaching in both directions along I-10 from Baton Rouge to Lafayette and further on into the downtown area of Breaux Bridge, said Parish President Guy Cormier.
Yet in some ways, the growth along I-10 it itself a ripple from the development of downtown Breaux Bridge as a center for its culture, gourmet restaurants and antique shops, Cormier said. It brought increased awareness of the community as a destination for travelers along the I-10 corridor. Moreover, this revitalization occurred in conjunction with the efforts to develop other downtown areas of Lafayette and Crowley. The recognition of these historic areas has been a significant factor in growth and ongoing rehabilitation of areas that were once neglected.
But these attractions have not been the only factor in the remarkable rate of growth in St. Martin Parish.
In the late 90s, the St. Martin Parish Government requested the development of a master plan. In that study, the foremost issue was to develop an adequate infrastructure for the parish, concentrating on the development and maintenance of roads within the parish. In 2002 a penny sales tax was passed to insure that this aspect of the master plan could be implemented.
Another factor in economic development has been the implementation of comprehensive zoning. Very few rural parishes have been able to accomplish this goal. The lack of such zoning regulations can inhibit investment when there is no control over what is constructed on adjacent properties.
The move towards zoning began in 1992 when Waste Management, Inc. wanted to open a landfill in the Cade area. Local residents waged a “War on Waste” and discovered that the only way to prevent the creation of the landfill was to implement a parish-wide zoning ordinance.
Although Waste Management eventually dropped its plans to create the landfill, the movement spurred the establishment of the St. Martin Parish Economic Development Authority’s (SMEDA) Business Park along Highway 90 in Cade. There were 44 parcels offered and today the park is sold out with 32 businesses occupying the industrial site.
At the time, both the I-10 corridor and the Highway 90 corridor were identified as opportunities for concentrated growth. Today, another business park, known as Commercial Park East, is being developed in Breaux Bridge. It is located behind the new Wal-Mart, on Latiolais Road. The types of businesses at this site will be more diversified than the companies at the first site, which is primarily made up of oilfield service companies. The I-10 park will include strip shopping centers containing both local and national chain retail outlets. Local merchants have already begun to benefit from the growth in the area, including local restaurants and grocery stores.
Beth Guidry, executive director of SMEDA, proudly pointed to a new housing development, named “The Lakes on the Teche,” which is the first “traditional neighborhood” development in St. Martin Parish, as another sign of progress. Similar to the planned community design of River Ranch and Sugar Mill Pond in Lafayette Parish, these neighborhoods offer a mix of local shopping and neighborhoods that encourage foot and bicycle traffic. The housing development is located near the Doug Ashy Lumber Co., with access from Rees St., the main corridor from I-10. Ground has been broken and the lots are priced from $38,000-$115,000.
Guidry said this kind of growth could not have happened without great leadership in both the political and business communities, providing opportunities to promote both Breaux Bridge and St. Martinville. Despite the devastating loss of Martin Mills, which had been the major employer in St. Martin Parish for over 30 years, the parish has rebounded. The Martin Mills location is now 50 percent occupied and the major tenant is Louisiana System Built Homes. Both Guidry and President Cormier credited the mayors of Breaux Bridge, Henderson and St. Martinville, and Tina Begnaud of the Breaux Bridge Area Chamber of Commerce for the successful recovery effort. Without the commitment of these individuals and the support of citizens of St. Martin Parish, there would not be an economic renaissance occurring today, they said.
Another major factor was the decision to stick with the design of the original master plan created by the University of New Orleans’ Center for Business Development, Guidry and Cormier said.
Louisiana might not be suffering the economic turmoil present in other areas of the country, but the memory of the oil bust of the 1980s is guides the planning efforts of St. Martin Parish, they said.