Heritage Park Plaza plans put on hold

Wade McIntyre

In another sign that rising oil and fuel prices are pinching parish governments, the Gonzales City Council spent its money on road work instead of a highly publicized cultural enhancement project at the regular meeting Monday.

The council voted to postpone the Heritage Park Plaza multi-purpose destination park facility after engineering consultant Glenn Shaheen reported that the 2008-09 capital road improvement project for turn lanes and road work faced a more than $400,000 shortfall.

The city will get “more bang for our buck with turn lane and road projects,” Councilman Alvin “Bully” Dragg said.

A motion by Councilman Kenny Matassa to put Heritage Plaza “on hold” and put funds that would have been spent on the park on turn lanes and overlay work passed unanimously.

Transportation, streets and turn lanes “is where our money should be,” according to Mayor Johnny Berthelot. He said city anticipates exhausting its annual fuel operating budget within the next six months.

Shaheen said the city budgeted about $1 million for road improvements, but the lowest bid for the work came in at $1.325 million from F.G. Sullivan Jr. Contractor LLC of Baton Rouge. Engineering and other professional fees would add about $115,000 to the  price tag, Shaheen said.

Shaheen said no costs had yet been incurred on the proposed $3 to $3.5 million Heritage Park Project. The council in January had authorized $280,000 for surveying and engineering work to kickoff work on the facility that is touted as becoming a focal point for entertainment and family and educational activity in the city.

The park is designed to accommodate 2,000 to 2,500 people, and be located on the site of the old Gonzales swimming pool on Cornerview Road. It has been promoted as fitting in well with the city’s centerpiece attraction, Jambalaya Park, and major events such as the Jambalaya Festival, and would have called for an upgrading of Cornerview to three lanes.

Councilman Matassa said the project has not been scrapped, only delayed. The park had been scheduled for completion in summer 2009.

In another business matter Monday, the council agreed to purchase property owned by Byrnes Eves next to the proposed park site at Cornerview Drive and Francois Street. The purchasing price is $167,500, the appraised value of the property and the house on it. The property had been discussed in recent meetings as a possible building site for a new police station, or for use in conjunction with Heritage Park.

In another matter, the council directed city attorney Ryland Percy to try and secure more money from funds derived through collection of the 2 percent Fire Insurance Tax.

In a report to the council, acting Fire Chief Tracey Normand said Gonzales lost about $14,395 because the parish council recertified Prairieville with a higher population while lowering the population estimate of Gonzales.

Normand said the Gonzales population estimate was recertified at 5,270, which is significantly lower than even the city’s pre-Hurricane Katrina population of 8,156.

Mayor Johnny Berthelot said the issue would be a legal one, and the city would get its attorneys on the matter.

“We want our fair share based on the pre-Katrina population,” he said.