NEWS

Lamar-Dixon purchase clear to go

Wade McIntyre
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.

It’s official.

With the adoption of an ordinance Thursday the Parish Council authorized purchase of Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales for $7.5 million.

Approval came with one dissenting vote - Councilman George Valentine, who nonetheless complimented Parish President Tommy Martinez for his success in resurrecting the purchase after voters defeated a millage tax last year that would have funded a buy of the center.

Martinez received praise from many council members for moving ahead with the purchase and raising funds for the center’s purchase with other sources from state, federal and private sources.

The biggest portion of that money will come from federal funds appropriated by Congress to provide long-term Hurricane Gustav recovery with the expo-center acting as a major economic generator for the parish.

During public comments, parish resident Nicky Prejean said he personally committed raising $1 million for the purchase, including $100,000 of his own money.

Former Councilman Doug Hillensbeck applauded the purchase, saying “This is a tough economy but I think it will prove to benefit the parish and its citizens.”

If the facility were built with today’s dollars it would cost $100 million, he said.

Speaking against the purchase, area resident Allan Herring said 59.4 percent of the voters voted against purchasing the expo-center in the millage election.

He called the present funding questionable, and noted that all moneys for the center to date are one-time funds, with no recurring sources to provide for operation of the facility.

Martinez said he was working with Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux in ongoing discussions to see what contributions the city would make toward funding operation of the facility, and

Councilman Dennis Cullen who represents a large portion of the city said he would also be involved in talks with the mayor.

“I’m totally confident this thing will work out,” Martinez said.

Parish CAO Cedric Grant said a hotel/motel tax is a viable option that needs to be pursued to provide operating funds. At some point the parish needs to create an enterprise fund to help support Lamar-Dixon rather than putting a drain on the parish general fund.

In noting his support of the purchase, Council Chairman Pat Bell said the adoption of the ordinance should be televised on CNN and the nightly news. When something valued at $60 million is purchased for $7.5 million, “you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see it is a good deal.”

Councilman Kent Schexnaydre said wherever he travels people say how lucky Ascension Parish is to have Lamar-Dixon. He said they say “I can’t believe you haven’t bought it.”

Schexnaydre said local residents have told him the millage election came at the wrong time due in part to the economy, and that they had nothing against Lamar-Dixon.

Councilman Randy Clouatre said in his district the response was overwhelming in favor of the purchase. “I know people voted a tax down,” he said. “I don’t think they voted Lamar-Dixon down.”

Oliver Joseph said when he first got on the council, Lamar -Dixon was an argument among council members, but members were no longer in disagreement. “It’s free money. Whose going to go out and turn down free money?”

Councilman Adrian Thompson said, “I support it for the quality of life. The kids that show at 4-H and kids that ride horses, they deserve a place to go. It goes back to quality of life.”