Raising Canes River Center
Source: raisingcanesrivercenter.com

Metro council approves plan for proposed LSU arena, River Center redevelopment

BATON ROUGE– The Baton Rouge Metro Council approved an ordinance supporting LSU’s proposed $300 million arena by a vote of 10-1-1 on Wednesday.

The ordinance recognizes the benefits of LSU’s Tiger Athletic Foundation’s development of the arena, which would host sporting events for LSU and entertainment and music events for the Capital Region. It also functions as a non-compete agreement for the River Center.

Chauna Banks, the only metro council member to dissent, argued that the restrictions on the River Center are unreasonable and may not meet the legal requirements for a noncompete agreement. Councilman Darryl Hurst abstained from the vote after his motion to defer the item for 60 days failed.

The TAF is the private arm of the university’s athletic program, which plans to build the new on-campus arena costing between $350 and $400 million. The arena is estimated to hold up to 13,000 seats and replace the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

However, to proceed with the proposal, the River Center will restrict live music and entertainment events to 3,500 attendees for the next 30 years under the new ordinance. The River Center area would be redeveloped to add a new hotel on the property.

Professional sporting events will be capped at 8,500 people. The newly renovated River Center theatre with 1,999 seats and exhibition hall are exempt from the cap requirements.

The ordinance notes that another regional facility would hinder the arena’s development. Consequently, once the arena is constructed, the Metro Council must restrict certain entertainment and music activities on city-parish property.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, and Visit Baton Rouge have announced support for the arena.

“This is really an important moment in our future here in Baton Rouge,” Weston Broome said to kick off the two-hour discussion. “This is a project that will benefit our entire parish. We cannot think about the LSU arena on its own, the River Center on its own, or Memorial Stadium on its own.”

A consulting firm, Conventions, Sports, and Leisure (CSL) International, completed a study in August that estimated the cost of the required River Center renovations could cost between $80 and $95 million.

CSL also projected that after the renovation of the River Center Complex (including the ballroom and convention spaces), the city-parish could still have an operating deficit of $300,000 to $600,000, with some years exceeding this range in either direction due to a higher percentage of meetings and conferences as opposed to live entertainment events that would generate more revenue.

Hurst argued there needed to be more data for the council to justify the plan. He urged the council to take more time to study other models.

One resident said the topic should have gone before the taxpayers first.

“There have been no community town Halls in the 12 different districts,” she said. Our tax dollars are continually being dumped for special interests, and what normally happens to all of us is we end up paying for these toys that are not private/public partnerships. They are taxpayer-funded and privately incentivized. We have a big problem in this parish, and I feel like I am living in a twilight zone.”

The resident added that the reason people aren’t coming to Baton Rouge has nothing to do with a better venue. She pointed to crime and other factors affecting the Capital Region.

“We can talk about keeping our children. We’re not keeping them,” she said. “We are talking about an entity where all you have to do is Google it to see the scandals. There are overwhelming costs to build out an infrastructure with hotel rooms, parking, and street supplies. On the divide between Florida Boulevard, we cannot get appropriate lighting. We cannot get our schools in an appropriate place. This is our parish. It’s not BRAC’s parish. It’s not BRAP’s parish. It’s not the Tiger Athletic Foundation’s Parish. It is the hardworking people of this parish and we weren’t even consulted. Elections matter.”

Read the full ordinance here.

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