Parish plans Lamar-Dixon buy

Wade McIntyre
James Bordelon and his daughter Megan were among those speaking in favor of the purchase of the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center during a special meeting of the Ascension Parish Council Tuesday in Gonzales.

Don’t turn out the lights on Lamar-Dixon Expo Center yet.

It looks like Ascension’s $55 million baby will stay open long after a looming closing date of June 30 – and continue operation under ownership of parish government.

The turnabout in the fate of the expo center came during a  special Parish Council meeting in Gonzales Tuesday, with the council unanimously agreeing to consider an ordinance allowing the parish to purchase the center for $7.5 million.

Before a packed crowd in the council chambers, Parish President Tommy Martinez said the parish could exercise its right to purchase the facility under its lease with Mary Lee Dixon and not have any sort of taxes or stipulations in the bargain.

The parish is now eligible for funds appropriated by Congress for long term recovery because Hurricane Gustav led to further recognition for Lamar-Dixon as a major economic generator for  Ascension,  CAO Cedric Grant said during a brief Powerpoint presentation.

The federal funds available through the Louisiana Recovery Authority would come from about $18 million in hurricane recovery funds guaranteed the parish, and do not require matching dollars.

The parish also has a $250,000 earmark for the center obtained by Sen. David Vitter that must be spent this year, and Sen. Mary Landrieu has promised a $750,000 earmark for the purchase in 2010, Grant said.

A private donation of $1 million dollars will cover the center’s operating costs for two years, the CAO said.

Sen. Jody Amedee of Gonzales said the area legislative delegation made up of Rep. Mert Smiley of Port Vincent,  Rep. Eddie Lambert of Gonzales and Rep. Elton Aubert of Vacherie would bring $2 million to the parish for the purchase from the state capital outlay bill and through amendments in House Bill One.

Gov. Bobby Jindal is in full support of the purchase, primarily for use in the event of disasters, according to Amedee.

“It won’t affect anything else we’re trying to do in the area,” Amedee said of the purchase.

GOSEPH’s Paul Rainwater said the hurricane recovery money to purchase the center would come in a first wave allocation to local governments in Louisiana.

GOSEPH wants the parish to keep Lamar-Dixon to help retain jobs in the area and keep the local economy strong, he told council members.

“The dollars are there,” he said. “It’s an eligible project.”

Smiley and Aubert were in the standing room only audience, and Sen. Landrieu was represented by Jason Hughes, a regional manager in her Baton Rouge office, who spoke on the senator’s behalf.

Lamar-Dixon Dixon serves as part of an economic development hub, an emergency recovery center, and entertainment center and more, he said. “She (Landrieu) has stated to me that this is her number one priority for Ascension Parish.”

Prior to the resolution to introduce an ordinance invoking the purchasing of the expo-center, numerous members of the audience spoke in favor of the purchase.

Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux noted that the city adopted a resolution the previous evening saying the city would offer whatever support it can, though at present that does not include any funding.

Despite what seemed like an imminent closing of the expo center, Duane Nunez, state livestock show manager for LSU, said the organization has made no decision yet on the location of the next livestock show.

“I can tell you tonight we are looking forward to sitting down and negotiating an agreement with you,” he said.

Arielle Sutton, 17, of Gonzales, spoke on behalf of all youths involved in 4-H clubs in Louisiana. “Thank you for considering the purchase of this fabulous facility that has been such a part of my life,” she said.

Sutton, a member of the 4-H Executive Committee in Louisiana, said Lamar-Dixon has become a fundamental part of the 4-H program open to all youths in the state.

Area resident James Bordelon brought his young daughter Megan to the podium with him to address the council. He said she has been showing livestock for the past two years and has met a lot of friends from all over the state.

When people come to Ascension, they talk very highly about Lamar-Dixon, he said.

“It’s a good thing, a good place, and she (his daughter) needs someplace to be for the next seven years.”

Jamie Templet spoke on behalf of 4-H and as a parish resident. She said the organization saw a 32 percent increase in membership last year due to the 4-H being able to utilize Lamar-Dixon.

“People did not vote against the facility itself, just the millage,” she said.

Councilman Adrian Thompson, who made the motion introducing the motion, praised Martinez for his efforts in putting together the coalition in support of the facility purchase. “This is the nicest facility that we have in the country,” he said.

Councilman Chris Loar, who confessed to a non-livestock background, said the potential of the facility led him to favor the purchase. “$7.5 million for this facility is an unheard of value,” he said.