Welcoming guests to St. James Parish

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2000

DANIEL TYLER GOODEN / L’Observateur / January 26, 2000

The St. James Economic Development Department has been working on a newWelcome Center for the parish since 1994. The project is now well underway.

The parish’s Historical Society in Lutcher has done most of the welcoming for the parish since no official center had been established. The parishneeded a new facility within three miles of Interstate 10 in order to have an official welcoming center certified by the state.

Edie Michel, economic development director for the parish, explained that 80 percent of the tourist traffic comes from New Orleans, via I-10, and a center is needed close to the highway to serve as the “gateway to a loop around the parish.”Like “a local ticketmaster,” Michel described.

Kaiser Aluminum furnished the land close to the interstate. Seven and 1/2acres of wetland was donated to parish for the project.

Four acres of the property, on the southwest corner of Airline Highway and Louisiana Highway 3213, was drained in order to provide a space for the center. American Iron Reduction offer the topsoil for the center, andMarathon funded the building of a boardwalk around the remaining wetland.

The NAACP donated a cistern for the center.

“It was like everyone was a partner,” Michel said.

When a house to be used as the center was found the 24 heirs of the property donated it as well. Michel was glad the families donated the house.”They get to see the family home refurbished instead of degenerating,” she said.

Michel, having worked on the project since its beginning, envisions the center as more than just a wayside stop.

“It’s my hope that we will start having cultural events there,” said Michel, such as storytellers, exhibits and such. The center will be available for schoolfield trips, boy scout camping trips and other local activities.

The Welcome Center will provide information on local events, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and other local businesses. The office of EconomicDevelopment will be moved to the Welcome Center in order to better introduce outside companies to the St. James Parish.When completed the property will be enclosed by a canal to give the illusion that the center is on a lagoon. The property will be handicap accessible andwill have parking adequate large enough to house tour buses.

There will be a lagoon, separate from the wetlands, that will contain various local plant life and animals, alligators included.

A home, separate from the main center, has been donated for use as a concession and restroom area.

The main center is being reconstructed by Jud Reynaud, owner of Design Woodwork Co.. A professional in historical reconstruction, Reynaud isworking with the specifications of the National Historical Landmark Association in mind. If he can meet the requirements, the center will becertified as an historical building.

The old house dates back to the early 1800’s. Reynaud is having materials ofthe house tested for an exact date and expects to find that it might be older than he initially thought.

“The house has been moved at least four times before,” Reynaud said. Thestyle of the house has been changed over the years and the moves. Reynaudis restoring the house back to its original style.

“It leans very much to French Creole,” said Reynaud. Portions of the wallswill be left bare during repair so that tours of the house may show the style of its original construction.

When it’s finished Michel wants the house and the Welcome Center to be an example to other parishes. Instead of letting their old homes deteriorate shewants other parishes to see that “St. James did their’s upright,” and tofollow suit.

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