When parades roll down the streets of Slidell this coming Carnival season, their kings and queens will lift their glasses to toast city dignitaries at a new, permanent reviewing site on city-owned land in front of Textron Marine on Gause Boulevard.
The Slidell City Council voted 6-2 Tuesday to spend an additional $25,000 on the new location, bringing the project’s total cost to $90,000. The increase was necessary because bids came in higher than expected, officials said.
For years, the mayor and other city officials have watched parades from Front Street, but the vacant lot they have been using is now the site of a new Starbucks.
The decision to spend more money on the new location was not without controversy. Councilman Val Vanney was unhappy with the rising cost of the project, which includes a 40-by-80-foot pad for the portable structure, plus fencing and lighting.
Spending so much public money “for the elite to sit and watch parades for eights days is tough to swallow,” Vanney said.
He urged the council to put the stands on a right-of-way owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad and the state Department of Transportation and Development at Front and Erlanger streets. That would remove the need to build a pad, he said.
Erlanger Street at one time crossed the tracks, but the crossing was closed as a safety measure, he said.
Vanney had made an initial contact with Norfolk Southern and said Wednesday he thinks a deal could have been worked out.
But other council members expressed skepticism about getting a quick answer from either the state agency or the railroad and said waiting would jeopardize getting the project completed in time for the 2016 Carnival.
Councilman Sam Abney said the city always has had reviewing stands and it is time to have a permanent location on city-owned property. “The elite people are going to have to sit somewhere,’’ he said.
Councilman Sam Caruso thanked Vanney “for telling us how elite we all are,” but he said the stands — and the toasting of Carnival royalty and city officials — are something the public demands.
Caruso also warned that dealing with the railroad likely would prove difficult. When he was mayor, he said, the city wanted to buy land from the railroad for Heritage Park but couldn’t even get anyone to talk to his administration.
It wasn’t until the railroad wanted to close some crossings that the city gained leverage, Caruso said. He said he wouldn’t OK the closures until Norfolk Southern agreed to talk about the land sale.
Mayor Freddy Drennan was absent Tuesday, but Tim Mathison, the city administrator, agreed that putting together a quick deal with the railroad was unlikely.
In the end, only Vanney and Councilman Bill Borchert voted against spending the additional $25,000.
Councilman Glynn Pichon said his one reservation about the project is that it moves the reviewing stand out of Slidell’s Olde Towne area.
He said there is a possibility the city can secure public sponsorships of the stands to defray the cost.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.