GONZALES — Gonzales residents will get to enjoy a revamped civic center — one with new design features to protect against floodwaters — when the longtime landmark reopens in April.
The Civic Center was extensively damaged in the 2016 flood and had to be repaired and restored. It's expected to reopen in time for the Jambalaya Festival on Memorial Day weekend. Historically, the civic center has provided festival goers a refuge to cool off during the popular annual event.
The project's contract calls for the center's restoration to be finished well before the May 26-28 festival, City Engineer Jackie Baumann said.
The annual Jambalaya Festival, held around the city's Jambalaya Park, features music, a jambalaya cooking contest, a carnival and other events and attractions.
Last year's festival, which is held around the city's Jambalaya Park, didn't have the same access it usually has to the nearby civic center because of the flood damage.
It was missed, Baumann said.
In the heat of May, it was nice for festival goers to take breaks in the air-conditioned civic center on Irma Boulevard, she said. Festival organizers compensated last year with additional tents offering shade to festival goers.
Other traditional events will be coming back to the civic center, as well, during the course of the year, city officials said.
"I want to bring back the 'Mayor's Prayer Breakfast' and the senior center's Christmas party," Mayor Barney Arceneaux said.
The city explored various options after the civic center flooded, including tearing it down and rebuilding it elsewhere. Building a new, larger convention-type center near La. 30 remains a possibility, Arceneaux said.
He said state Rep. Ken Brass will introduce a bill in this year's regular session, which begins March 12, seeking legislative approval for an increase in the city's hotel-motel tax to help fund building and maintenance of a convention center. It would be located in the area of La. 30, home to numerous hotels, the Tanger Outlet Center and Cabela's.
If the measure is approved by the legislature, it will then go to Gonzales residents for a vote, Arceneaux said.
Last October, Gonzales residents voted down a proposed half-cent sales tax that would have funded the convention center, as well as maintain and improve fire and police protection and build a community center for youth.
Brass said he already has pre-filed a bill that would increase the city's hotel-motel tax from 2 percent to 4 percent to help pay for the construction, operation and maintenance of a convention center.
If the hotel-motel tax increase is successful, Brass and Arceneaux said, the city will engage in talks with the Ascension Parish Tourism Commission for some of the proceeds to go to the tourism agency.
Residents have missed their traditional Civic Center, city officials said. Built with one large room, a stage and a kitchen, it's been a popular location for birthday parties, wedding receptions and recitals since opening its doors in 1967.
In the last several months, the flooded facility has been repaired, cleaned and successfully passed mold and moisture tests, Baumann said.
The floor has been refinished, new walls are up and there's new equipment in the kitchen. A new air conditioning system was put in, as well, and restrooms got new walls and counters.
A low wall has been built around the outside of the building, to protect from flood waters in the future. And the civic center will have available, in case of a flood event, panels that can be put in place at all its entryways to keep water out.
Deumite Construction is the general contractor for the $932,000 restoration project. Reimbursement funds of approximately $680,000 were awarded by FEMA to the city last year that will go toward that cost, Baumann said.
In addition, the city is picking up the $220,000 cost of a new metal roof to be installed over civic center's original metal roof, she said.
Baumann said the building was remodeled so many times over its history that sections of the original metal roof didn't meet cleanly in some places, leading to roof leaks.
"I hope that when people walk in, they won't recognize it, because of the change and transformation," Baumann said.