Parish Council members mount recreation push for Community Center

Published 12:02 am Wednesday, July 12, 2017

LAPLACE — Should it be a recreation building, soundstage or convention center?

St. John the Baptist Parish Council members and administrators have grappled for years with that question and, more importantly, how to spend the money needed to upgrade the St. John Community Center into a viable, revenue-generating facility.

Parish Council members Larry Sorapuru Jr., Larry Snyder, Lennix Madere Jr. and Marvin Perrilloux want to see money invested into the U.S. 51 LaPlace venue to open it up for more recreation opportunities, possibly through the addition of basketball goals, bleachers and a playing surface.

Parish administrators say adding a hardwood floor could hamper the venue’s only consistent source of revenue.

“Our primary revenue from the Community Center is from the movie industry,” Laverne Toombs recently told Council members. “If we do alterations to that, there is the possibility it could jeopardize the movie industry from leasing that building.”

The Parish’s Chief Administrative Officer said the venue lacks consistent revenue because, at present, St. John entities are not utilizing it.

“We have it at a great rate where our community could utilize it, but it is not being utilized,” Toombs said.

According to Toombs, Parish officials have reached out to East St. John High, West St. John High, St. Charles Catholic and Riverside Academy to inquire about hosting the schools’ graduations, only to find out each seems happy with their current options, some of which include taking the ceremony outside of St. John Parish.

Parish administrators have consistently advocated spending money to expand the Community Center to include meeting and small conference rooms.

Typical conference centers, Parish leaders say, offer meeting rooms, aesthetics, breakout rooms, a commercial kitchen, a sound proof room divider and corporate-style tables and chairs.

“It is something we don’t have in St. John Parish,” Toombs said, adding it’s needed to reach out to conferences and individuals who want to host meetings.

“I think that will be more economically feasible.”

The most recent discourse on Community Center improvements followed similar conversation in September that resulted in the formation of a committee to address the concerns. That lack of action in the last nine months frustrates some Council members.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot to put some bleachers and basketball goals in for the recreation department to utilize while we set up the long range plans for breakout rooms or whatever modifications are being suggested,” Sorapuru said. “What the public is telling us is we need to have access to that building. I don’t think we should be catering to the film industry. Our customers are these kids in this community, the churches and nonprofits.”

Madere said exorbitant prices nearing $4,000 to rent the building were keeping local people from using the venue.

According to a price menu presented by the Parish to L’OBSERVATEUR, local residents can rent the main space for $3,000 or atrium for $1,225.

“If we had that building accessible to the community, they would use it a whole lot more and we would make money,” Madere said. “The thing is, if we could break even on a month, that is OK with me. We would not be losing money.”

According to Perrilloux, the building, which opened in 2006, was originally proposed for recreation and getting away from that hurt its value and local support.

“We should have volleyball tournaments and basketball tournaments over there,” he said. “People would come bring their kids to the parish and utilize the hotels and restaurants. It would be a revenue generator for the parish. That building would be used every weekend.

“I’m not going to sit here and let a movie dictate what we should do with our own building. Our building is just sitting there, cooling space, hoping a movie comes in. We need to use that building for our residents. That is what it was designed for and what I voted for.”