Vote delayed on Lamar-Dixon proposal

Aaron Looney
The fate of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales may lie in the hands of parish voters in November, if Parish President Tommy Martinez and the Parish Council place a 3-mill property tax issue on the ballot. Martinez has said that if voters do not pass the tax, he will not renew the current lease-purchase agreement between parish government and the Lamar-Dixon Foundation.

DONALDSONVILLE – The Ascension Parish Council delayed discussion Thursday on a proposed 3 mill property tax issue to fund the purchase and upgrade of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center, after a miscommunication issue prevented the council from discussing the issue that night.

Acting as the Finance Committee, the council will address the proposal at its meeting Thursday in the Parish Council chambers in Gonzales. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.

Parish President Tommy Martinez said after Thursday’s meeting that had planned to ask the council to adopt a resolution to place the issue on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, but copies of the proposal were inadvertently left out of the council members’ meeting packets. This led to the issue being removed from the meeting agenda.

If the Finance Committee approves the measure Thursday, the full council will vote on the matter at its next regular meeting, which was rescheduled to Tuesday, Aug. 19 at 7 p.m., also in the council chambers.

Martinez said Thursday that the deadline to place an item on the November 4 ballot is Wednesday, Aug. 20.

“It’d be tight, but if it passes a vote of the council, we’d get it in right at the deadline,” he said.

Council Chairman Pat Bell said the meeting was rescheduled because a majority of council members would also be attending a seminar in Houma on the regular Thursday meeting date.

Martinez has said that if a tax is not approved by voters this year, he will not renew at year’s end the lease-purchase agreement with the Lamar-Dixon Foundation that the parish has worked under for the past three-plus years. Under the terms of the contract, none of the money the parish is paying to lease the facility goes toward the overall purchase price of $7.5 million.

The proposed tax would cost the average owner of a home valued at $165,000 an additional $27 per year, Martinez said.

In 2005, then-Parish President Ronnie Hughes signed the lease-purchase agreement with the Lamar-Dixon Foundation, just before the center was set to close it doors as owners Bill and Mary Lee Dixon could no longer operate it.

According to figures from parish government, the center has operated at a loss of $700,000 each year since the parish took over operations. The parish contracted management group SMG, which operates numerous other venues in the state, to run the facility’s day-to-day operations.

However, Martinez said that if the parish would take over operations of the center and not pay rent or management costs, it would cut the estimated annual loss to around $250,000.

Both Martinez and Eddie Crawford, general manager of the facility for SMG, have said that booking long- and short-term events in advance would be easier if promoters knew the stability of the center’s ownership and its future.

“It’s hard for these events to commit to a center when they don’t know if it will be around in three or four years or who will own it,” Martinez said. “They don’t want to take a chance on something happening.”

Martinez said that instability has led to many events passing on the expo center to host their events.

In recent months, the center’s RV park has been a money maker in the wake of numerous events canceling their scheduled occupation of the center for various reasons. Crawford said that many of those who use the RV park are contracted employees working at the area chemical plants for long-term jobs.

If passed, the tax would also go toward upgrading the facility, including enclosing and air conditioning the center’s main arena and the 4-H building, Martinez said.

“That would also be a big help in getting more events to come there,” he said.

If the parish would purchase the center, Martinez said, it could also use 120 acres of vacant land on the property to construct a multi-million dollar recreation facility.

“We’ve got to do something about this, one way or the other,” Martinez said, “because we can’t keep going the way it is right now. We want the people to decide.”