The Metro Council on Wednesday will consider approving construction of almost $1 million to build a sculptural stage canopy in the new North Boulevard Town Square.
Though the council approved most of the funds for the project in May, some council members are considering killing the project after reconsidering its cost.
“We think it’s atrocious, and we don’t think it should be done,” Mayor Pro Tem Mike Walker said.
Walker said he, and other council members, have changed their minds about supporting the stage cover.
“After more thought and more research and feedback from the public, we’re having second thoughts,” Walker said. “The rest of the parish is expressing to this council loudly that they think we’ve probably done enough downtown for awhile. What about them? They still exist, you know.”
Galvez Plaza, on North Boulevard next to the River Center Library, is a focal point of the new Town Square development and houses a stage for performances.
The massive stainless steel canopy is intended to serve as an iconic sculpture, as well as a functional stage cover with the ability to hang curtains, lights and accommodate other performance needs.
“The design offers a true iconic piece for the city, as a symbol where our culture and civic attractions come together, in a place where there’s a lot of visitors,” said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District.
In May the council approved the use of $1 million of state sales tax rebates dedicated for the riverfront improvements. The council was told that half of that money was going to be combined with other funds that had been secured to build a $900,000 stage cover. The other half will be used for improvements in the adjacent Repentance Park.
The state sales tax rebates are dedicated to riverfront projects.
Last month, the council was expected to approve a low bid for the stage construction project of $900,000 by Arrighi Construction Company, but the council deferred the item.
Councilwoman Donna Collins Lewis said she doesn’t remember being told that the stage would cost $900,000 when she approved the funds in May.
Collins-Lewis said she does not oppose downtown spending, but is skeptical about the stage.
“To me that’s an expensive amount of money for covering a stage,” she said. “They’ll have to present a good argument for me (Wednesday) because I’m not completely sold.”
Councilman Scott Wilson said he would vote against accepting the low bid.
“I’m not going to keep dumping money down there,” he said. “It’s like it never ends. It’s a bottomless pit.”
He added that just because the money is dedicated to downtown, “doesn’t mean you have to spend every dime of it.”
Rhorer said he is hopeful the council will accept the low bid and allow the project to move forward.
He said the base of the stage was constructed specifically to “carry the weight and design of this canopy piece.”
Councilwoman Tara Wicker, whose district includes downtown Baton Rouge, said she’s frustrated by some of her colleagues’ resistance to downtown spending.
“Downtown is the living room to the city. It does not belong to (my district),” Wicker said. “Just like other cities across the country, the vitality of downtown has a residual effect on economic growth throughout the parish.”
She said she does not understand why some of her colleagues have changed their position about the project.
“The dollars were already approved,” she said. “The project was good enough to approve initially, what happened now? If not downtown, then where?”
Councilman Joel Boé said he initially had concerns about the project because the first round of low bids came in at twice the number projected for the construction cost.
Public Works officials then worked with the low bidder to make some changes to accommodate the construction budget and to lower the cost.
“I feel comfortable with approving it and moving forward,” he said.
Boé said he thought it was “a lot of money for a canopy” but felt it was a good use for the funds dedicated for downtown.
“It goes in line with the Town Square. It will compliment everything,” he said. “And it’s money that can only be used for downtown improvements so it’s not like that money is being taken from fire, police or DPW.”