A Jefferson Parish Council member says he hopes the parish may have an irresistible offer for would-be philanthropists willing to make a generous donation to the parish’s new Performing Arts Center: their name on the side of the building.
On Wednesday, the council will consider naming the theater inside the arts center after a state senator who got millions of dollars for the facility from the state. But Councilman Elton Lagasse said he thinks someone might be willing to pay for the naming rights to the entire building, just as big corporate sponsors pay to emblazon their logos on sports stadiums.
Lagasse has offered the resolution to name the 1,050-seat theater inside the center in honor of the late state Sen. Ken Hollis, a Metairie Republican. Lagasse expects the council will approve the resolution during its meeting Wednesday because Hollis “was a very big factor in getting the original funding for this from the Legislature,” he said.
Hollis served as a state senator for 26 years. Term limits forced him to retire in 2007, but by then he had made it one of his causes to garner financial support for a performing arts center in Jefferson. He died of cancer in 2010.
Lagasse said the parish might want to offer the naming rights to the entire center in return for a major pledge, although the idea hasn’t been vetted by the rest of the council yet.
Sitting next to Zephyr Field off Airline Highway in Metairie, the 86,000-square-foot center was supposed to be ready for performances in 2009 at a cost of $26.6 million. But design problems, legal fights between the parish and its original architect and an audit that raised questions about spending and management delayed the project by six years and more than doubled its cost.
It wasn’t until December that Jefferson officials declared the project “substantially complete” at a cost of about $54.5 million, most of which was paid by the state.
Work on final touches continues at the center, whose marketing and maintenance will be the responsibility of SMG, also the operator of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
Dennis Assaf — the director of the nonprofit Jefferson Performing Arts Society, the center’s resident company — said Tuesday that he still has not been able to begin casting the theater’s inaugural production, “Les Miserables.” Assaf said he paid $10,000 for the rights to the musical, which expire in June.
The society — which has been staging productions at East Jefferson High School Auditorium in Metairie and Teatro Wego! Theatre in Westwego — has plans to put on “Mary Poppins” in May.
But none of that can happen until the theater is 100 percent complete, Assaf said. Though his group has been inconvenienced, he said, the new center will allow his performers to do the same things on stage that they would be able to do at the Saenger or Mahalia Jackson theaters in New Orleans.
The sole edge the New Orleans theaters would have over Jefferson Parish’s would be a greater seating capacity, Assaf insisted.
“From an artistic standpoint, this (will be) a major, state-of-the-art venue,” he said.
Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.