Nothing to lose for civic center

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2013

What should have been a benign proposal by St. John the Baptist Parish Council Chair Jaclyn Hotard sparked the latest controversy among council members.
During the Sept. 10 council meeting Hotard attempted to get her fellow council members to sign off on a proposal to solicit bids for a company to manage the St. John Civic Center. Currently, the River Parishes Tourism Commission manages the facility and is afforded office space at no charge.
Despite several councilmen agreeing that local residents and organizations underutilize the facility, Hotard’s proposal was met with opposition and led to a nearly one-hour debate. Included in the contingent siding against Hotard were two representatives from the
tourism commission present at the meeting.
That dialogue came on the heels of a similar discourse during an August council meeting that lasted for more than one hour and continued even when a brief recess was called.
Opposition to the proposal is nonsensical, especially considering the parish is under no obligation to accept any of the bids. Hotard is not calling to oust the Tourism Commission, as some suggested.
Her argument is solicitation of bids from experts in the field might offer insight into how similar facilities in neighboring parishes are operating and how some of those practices could incorporated into improved management of the civic center.
If indeed the facility is not maximizing its potential for revenue, the council, as stewards of the parish, owe it to residents to gather credible advice and develop a strategy for improvement. Perhaps none of the submitted proposals would meet the council’s vision for the center, but at the very least members would have a better perspective on its operation.
Already, the council has taken a significant step toward attaining that goal when in August rental fees were reduced by 20 percent for parish residents, schools and organizations. The reduction came after it was rumored the LaPlace-based Krewe Du Monde was considering moving its Mardi Gras ball to the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner, as it has in years past when the civic center was being utilized as a soundstage.
The St. John Civic Center is a beautiful facility that should be the gem of the River Parishes. By tapping into the resources of management firms by advertising for bids, council members will be taking a significant step toward reaching that potential.