Time running out

Wade McIntyre
Branch Director Jason Vande Vuss shoots one of his final free throws in the spacious gym at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center YMCA Branch Wednesday. The longest running tenant at Lamar-Dixon will close down Dec. 31, now that failure of a tax proposal Nov. 4 has prompted Parish President Tommy Martinez to announce the center will shut down June 30.

The imminent closure of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center next summer has led to the premature termination of the lease for the center’s flagship tenant on Dec. 31.

Members of the Lamar-Dixon YMCA chapter were notified by letter Nov. 13 that the YMCA branch would close after a tax proposal to purchase the center failed to pass in the Nov. 4 election.

The letter from Branch Director Jason Vande Vuss gave members the option to cancel or transfer membership to one of seven branches outside the parish.

“If it had passed, we’d still be here,” Vande Vuss said Wednesday. “The reason we’re closing is because the lease is being terminated.”

Vande Vuss also confirmed Wednesday that he will leave the YMCA organization. He said he plans to begin taking an alternative certifications program in preparation to become a certified teacher.

“I’ve always wanted to teach and coach and this was my opportunity to do that,” he said.

The Ascension community responded in a lackluster manner to the Lamar-Dixon branch, never really supporting it in the numbers needed to make the branch viable in the long term, despite it being open all but ten days out of the year.

Volatility over the fate of the expo center also contributed to low membership numbers. Officials have said their enrollment numbers dropped whenever articles appeared about the fate of the center.

The branch has lost about half its peak membership since opening in 2000, and the YMCA was tentatively planning to move and build at a new location on property to be donated by the City of Gonzales near Jambalaya Park.

That move would require an estimated $2.5 million or more to construct a new facility, depending on the features it would include, and funds would have to come from the community.

Lamar-Dixon Expo Center founders Bill and Mary Lee Dixon originally constructed the gym for children to use when they came to the expo center to compete in the various livestock shows, according to Flo Magee, expo center marketing manager. When the YMCA leased the building, the youngsters were still allowed to use the facility under supervision.

“It’s just a big disappointment,” Magee said of the YMCA closure. “I understand their point of view. They didn’t have the membership with people not wanting to travel all the way out here to use the facility.”

Magee said the expo center’s other high profile tenant, the food incubator opened by the Ascension Economic Development Corporation, will be open until Lamar-Dixon closes June 30.

“Lord yes, I’m going to miss it,” she said of the YMCA operation. “I have a really bad back and I was going over there every day. People in the RV lots would go over there and take it in, too.”

The YMCA let recreational vehicle patrons pay by they month, rather than yearly memberships, because they were staying at the expo center temporarily, Magee said.

Vande Vuss said the YMCA will continue to maintain the Gonzales Jambalaya Park swimming pool and aquatics program, and before- and after-school program. The Summer Day Camp will also continue, but at a different location to be determined.

The parish YMCA is also looking for a location to house the popular Silver Sneakers class.

“Some people have said they are sad to see the YMCA leave,” Vande Vuss said. “From the seniors standpoint they would be losing the social aspect of going to the Y.”