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Mayor-President releases plan to revise River Center; work would rely on public-private funding

2 months 1 week 2 days ago Friday, April 12 2024 Apr 12, 2024 April 12, 2024 3:31 PM April 12, 2024 in News
Source: WBRZ

BATON ROUGE — Refurbishing the River Center and building an adjacent hotel that could serve as a convention headquarters will be virtually impossible to pull off unless there is some kind of public-private partnership, the mayor-president said Friday while releasing her plans for the downtown sites.

Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome posted ideas at brla.gov/rivercenterproposal and noted that Baton Rouge is far behind its peers in establishing a campus that can hold regional conventions. While Baton Rouge does have hotels that can host conventions, it is one of the largest cities in the country that lacks a true convention center hotel, the mayor said.

She suggests an aggressive timeline to solicit proposals, review them and select developers. She envisions approving contracts within nine months.

The Metro Council this year, at Broome's request, voted to support a plan to build a major arena near the LSU campus through a $300 million-plus public-private partnership. As the LSU site develops, the River Center would be be repurposed into a major convention space. The arena, formerly known as the Centroplex, is nearly 50-years-old and shows its age.

"Like LSU's project, River Center can utilize similar public-private partnership (PPP) investment model to most efficiently leverage public assets," Broome's presentation says. "Otherwise, there is no clear path for public investment required to revitalize Complex."

Last summer, the Metro Council spent $3.6 million on upgrades to help prepare the arena for the Baton Rouge Zydeco's first hockey season in the city.

Broome said that among more than 20 comparable cities, Baton Rouge's convention facilities are below the average square footage, and that in Louisiana the capital city trails New Orleans, Shreveport and Monroe in offering suitable space. 

"Current arena, convention, exhibition and meeting assets are underutilized due to age and lack of state-of-the-art amenities," Broome wrote.

She proposes leasing the existing center to a private developer who could upgrade the convention space and another to build and run a headquarters hotel — or they could be the same firm.

The mayor-president's plan must still be presented to the Metro Council, and Broome says she will set up public hearings. She is soliciting feedback at mayor@brla.gov with copies to the appropriate Metro Council member.

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