Locals encouraged to ‘be a tourist in your own backyard’

Published 1:25 pm Saturday, July 8, 2023

LULING — Just as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz chanted, “There’s no place like home,” Louisiana’s River Parishes Tourist Commission encourages stakeholders to be a tourist in their own backyard and discover what the region has to offer.

A marketing partner second quarterly luncheon meeting was held June 29 at the Dr. Rodney Lafon Performing Arts Center in Luling. The spotlight was on new attractions in St. Charles Parish.

Lafon Center director Chris Aucoin-Melohn spoke about season highlights coming soon to the stage, including a concert series and children’s events. He gave a brief history of the 69,000 square foot facility, which doubles as a studio space for St. Charles Parish Public School students to enrich arts and music education.

The Lafon Center was the vision of former St. Charles Parish Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Rodney Lafon. After visiting an arts center attached to a high school in Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival, Dr. Lafon dreamed of bringing the same opportunities to local students. A feasibility study was completed in 2011, and a bond was secured to begin construction in 2015. Sadly, Dr. Lafon passed away in 2014, before he could see his vision come to fruition. The trumpet he once played is embedded into the colorful logo of the Lafon Performing Arts Center today, serving as a reminder of the inspiration behind the facility that is poised to impact generations of students.

The Lafon Center opened in 2019 but did not host its first complete season until 2022 due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida. In the meantime, the Lafon Center team adapted with innovative ideas including drive-in double features, which have continued beyond the pandemic.  The Lafon Center has continued to promote quality time with exciting new adventures in familiar, comforting spaces.

“We are here for the kids in our community, and we didn’t realize that this is something that could potentially bring in tourism based on the productions we are doing and the space that we have,” Aucoin-Melohn said.

He said the Lafon Center has explored opportunities to bring visitors back. Some examples include using stickers to welcome first-time visitors and sending them a hand-written thank you note with a complimentary doubloon for a free fountain drink during their next visit.

Filling seats of captivating shows with tourists and locals alike has the power to bolster the local economy, both directly and indirectly. According to Aucoin-Melohn, Louisiana arts organizations and arts participants directly contribute $202 million to the state economy, with an indirect economic impact of $934 million.

For instance, a visitor of the Lafon Center may spend money at a local eatery, such as Boudreaux’s River Road Restaurant, which recently opened just across the river in St. Rose.

Crystal Durand, co-owner and manager of Boudreaux’s, shared the story of the new restaurant. Doors were opened on Chef Joe Boudreaux’s 31st birthday in April, marking a return to his old stomping grounds in St. Charles Parish. The restaurant features a menu where comfort meets cuisine, offering a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, poboys, barbecue, and seafood entrees. Some of the unique items on the menu include Boudreaux’s take on a pork belly wedge salad, lobster mac and cheese, pulled pork nachos, and a Southern style brunswick stew. The unique venue, which features a wooden stage with rustic string lights, also sets the tone for live entertainment from local musicians.

Boudreaux and Durand also greet the River Parishes community at Frenier Landing in LaPlace. For the past 13 years, Boudreaux has been the chef behind the seafood dishes the community has come to know and love.

Another local sight featured during the River Parishes Tourist Commission’s quarterly meeting was the new Veterans Memorial Plaza just across the street from the Lafon Center and adjacent to the Edward Dufresne Community Center. According to Duane Foret, recreation director for St. Charles Parish, the Veterans Memorial Plaza honors all five branches of the Armed Forces with granite monuments. It is home to the state’s second Gold Star Families Memorial Monument, which provides a place of permanence for Gold Star Families to gather.

Members of the Louisiana’s River Parishes Tourist Commission spoke about how to “promote your backyard,” with Deputy Director of Operations Denise Burrell emphasizing a trend in capitalizing on sports tourism. Senior Marketing Manager Andre Watkins invited the public to send photos and videos of their families enjoying local attractions to info@lariverparishes.com.

“People don’t want to just see the outside of the building anymore,” he said. “They want to see what’s going on inside.”

For more information, call 985-359-2783, email Willma@LARiverParishes.com, or visit www.LARiverParishes.com.