Demand exists for conference center; Lamar Dixon ill-suited for business meetings finds study

“(T)here  is confidence that there is a market and demand for a conference and convention center within Ascension Parish” but it should be in the City of Gonzales.  That was the conclusion of Tour Ascension’s Convention & Conference Study group impaneled last year.  The city’s ability to provide water and wastewater treatment prime among them, Gonzales is the better option and the city council placed a 2% Hotel Occupancy Tax on the December 8 ballot to fund…

or something similar.  With study in hand Mayor Barney Arceneaux visited other municipalities, Slidell and Natchitoches, to get a sense of what Performing Arts Conference & Events Center should look like.

“We believe the center will be a great thing for citizens of Gonzales, that goes without saying,” Arceneaux said prior to Monday night’s meeting of the city council.  “As the study concluded, it will be a good thing for Ascension Parish too.”

The parish has been unable, after three decades of trying, to undertake sanitary sewer for those residents of unincorporated Ascension while the Gonzales continues to improve that key piece of infrastructure.  Ascension does provide water for citizens of Donaldsonville and the west bank after a 2016 purchase of Peoples Water Company, but not the east bank.  That’s why all the hotels along Hwy 30 built within the city limits.

Excerpts from Tour Ascension’s March 2, 2017 study include:

Community Leaders Summary

The community leaders and stakeholders demonstrated that they would like more meeting space within the Parish.  Many were disappointed that business and potential business is leaking to East Baton Rouge Parish.  The chemical plant, several businesses and boards within Ascension are looking for more space as well as an offsite location to hold meetings.

Lamar Dixon’s leadership does not support the project since a new conference center is viewed as direct competition to the Expo.

Community leaders who are not elected officials are tired of using the same facilities.  Concern where to place the facility: Gonzales or Ascension Parish.  Gonzales has the infrastructure (gas, electricity, sewer) while Ascension doesn’t.

(Why not) Lamar Dixon

Lamar Dixon is more of a venue for a family day event but to have meetings space, no, it is not what I consider proper for business meetings.  It is not a business forum.

It is now what you think of for most convention centers.  Lamar Dixon’s location is not great; it is not easy to get to; it is off the beaten path, off a two-lane path which is a big problem.  The problem is getting in and out.

Lamar Dixon is great but it smells like livestock.  They just redid it and it is very large but we only need half of it.  However, how many candles do you need for it not to smell like livestock.

Lamar Dixon, while nice, is so much out of the way-it has a beautiful facility and grounds but it is not for conventions.

73% of Ascension Parish’s hotel meeting planners answered “yes” when asked; “If the Parish was to build a new conference/convention center, would it help your property be able to sell more rooms?”  Those planners identified “inadequate…meeting space” as the main reason for events and conferences going elsewhere; Baton Rouge, Houma and New Orleans were specifically referenced.

“We are losing many of the larger groups and conferences to those cities and leaving dollars on the table,” said Councilman David Guitreau.  “Those meeting planners are right to be frustrated and it is telling that so many of them were excited by the prospect of a conference center.”

Councilmen Tyler Turner and David Guitreau after Monday’s council meeting

“I was interested to learn that meeting planners outside the parish would consider us if we had an events center,” added Councilman Tyler Turner.  “With a larger seating capacity this center could accommodate events for our citizens too, which is every bit as important.”

Preliminary plans envision capacity of 1200 people.  Large enough to host graduations, dance recitals, and performing artists.

“We believe PACE Center will benefit our citizens, but also industry and the city’s hotels,” Mayor Arceneaux reminded those gathered that the election is scheduled for Saturday, December 8.

Early voting is ongoing until Saturday, December 1.