St. John Civic Center still battling deadlines

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 1, 2005


Staff Reporter

LAPLACE — Once upon a time, the St. John the Baptist Civic Center was planned for sporting and community events, had a $5.5 million price tag, and expected to be completed in July 2005.

But things rarely go as planned, and major changes have been underway since the initial groundbreaking last May.

The Civic Center is now costing close to $6 million, will work to attract the film industry and is not expected to be completed until, well, that’s up for discussion.

Attempts to find out an estimated time of completion from all those involved proved fruitless.

Inquiries to the St. John Department of Economic Development, Sizeler Architects, Descant General Contractors, a parish councilman, the Department of Public Works, the parish engineer, as well as the director of planning and zoning were answered with constant referrals to others and an overall conflict in ideas of a completion countdown.

However, a call to Marketing Director Wayne Read, generated hope that the center will be completed by September. “The challenge is in the new materials we have added to the center,” Read said, “and you never know about the weather.”

In March, Read unveiled ideas to use the center as a high tech soundstage in order to lure more film productions to St. John Parish, and the delays may be due to the structural changes in the building in order to make it of modern soundstage quality.

“We are targeting September, but we can’t be sure of all the variables,” said Read, “But it’s safe to say by the end of the year, we’ll be up and running.”

Read said the rentals of the soundstage would benefit the entire business community, as it would result in increases in activity in local hotels and restaurants.

According to St. John Councilman Sean Roussel, the idea of St. John staking their claim in the burgeoning Louisiana film industry looks encouraging.

“We’ve gotten positive feedback from several movie companies,” Roussel said, “There are no major soundstages in this region; they film it here, but then they have to take it back to California to work on the sound.”

Also, it would not be used solely for soundstage purposes, but for local community events, such as craft fairs, graduations and cultural events.

At a March 8 meeting, the St. John the Baptist Council voted to allocate up to $750,000 in bonds from the hotel/motel tax to be used to finance the final stages of the center, primarily to pay for the acoustics.

“We figured we’d invest the money into the building to make it truly multipurpose,” Roussel said. “The last thing we need is a $6 million gym.”

According to Roussel, the parish devoted $400,000 to the acoustics, and if they get one commitment on a film per year, then it would likely cover the costs of the center for the entire year.

“You would need to hold a hell of a lot of dance recitals to get the money back,” Roussel said.