For nearly 50 years, the Rapides Parish Coliseum has stood as a harbor for entertainment, community bonding, and historic significance in Central Louisiana. However, due to a severe lack of funding and desperate need of repair and maintenance, the Coliseum’s future is in danger. On November 6th, a special election will be held in Rapides Parish asking voters for their support and investment in the Coliseum to revitalize this historic landmark, and bring a huge economic impact back into Central Louisiana.
The Coliseum does not receive funding from the Parish or the State in the form of dedicated tax revenue. It must rely solely upon proceeds from major events to sustain its operation and proper maintenance. In its current state of disrepair, major acts that will travel to Lafayette, Baton Rouge or Monroe have passed up Central Louisiana because their shows require larger and safer accommodations.
In August 2012, Architects were invited by the Police Jury and Coliseum Authority Board to submit design proposals for repairs, needed updates and expansion of seating. With previous work completed over the last 20 years at the Coliseum, and most recently with a Needs Assessment Study in 2008, the architects at Barron, Heinberg and Brocato were quite familiar with the Coliseum’s existing conditions. During presentations to the Police Jury and Coliseum Authority Board in late August, BH&B was selected as the principal designer after showcasing unique design solutions for expansion and improvements to the Coliseum. Using the original structure of the Coliseum itself, the architects at BH&B plan to enhance and expand not only the facility, but also the surrounding area to create parking and better access.
Kimberly Neal, Executive Director of the Rapides Parish Coliseum, is more than excited about the redesigned project. “The plan is phenomenal!” said Neal. “We would be able to accommodate acts that we’ve had to turn down in the past due to inadequate facilities. If this tax does not pass, we will continue to have the same acts we’ve had for the past 20 years with no growth for new events.” Neal added that acts such as Sesame Street Live, Phineas and Ferb, and Disney On Ice specifically wanted to come to the Coliseum earlier this year but could not because of the conditions. “If you want more things to do and see, and more events for your children and grandchildren, something has to change,” she explains.
However, these events are just the tip of the iceberg. Neal reluctantly turned down major artists that appeal to a much larger audience such as Maroon 5. Even the Sweet 16 was considering the Coliseum was a venue, but outdated flooring and equipment prevented their return. “And it’s not so much that we turn them down,” she said. “But we have to tell them that we don’t meet their requirements. The shows are so big that they need things we don’t have or can’t afford. Plus, they get their money back from the tickets sold. We currently don’t have enough seating to accommodate their needs.”
Neal also has concern for major religious events such as the Youth Evangelism Conference and Steubenville South. She hopes that a new facility will keep these large events not only at the Coliseum, but remaining in Rapides Parish for years to come. The future of these events, as well as others such as the Shrine Circus, and Amicus Club Rodeo could one day potentially become a thing of the past if no up-to-date venue is created.
The vote in November will create a $23 Million Bond Issue to pay for the renovations, expansion, improvements and up-grades needed to meet the estimated criteria. The new redesign will have the seating capacity increased to over 10,000 seats, so that new major entertainment events and shows that typically bypass the Coliseum can now be held here in Rapides Parish. Pineville Mayor Clarence Fields commented at a recent presentation that so far he likes the look of the design. “The concept is great,” said Fields. “There is great and valuable information for the people to look at to make a good decision about the millage.”
During presentations to various Civic and Public groups, Coliseum Authority Board Member Jimbo Thiels tells of two areas where the proposed project will have a positive impact for the City, Parish, and Central Louisiana Region. The first relates to Quality of Life issues and the second describes the potential for a positive Economic Impact. In regard to Quality of Life issues, Jimbo states, “Companies and businesses considering locating in the region would view the newly designed facility as an attraction while providing a higher Quality of Life for their employees. Communities that provide Quality of Life attractions are often favored as location finalist over those that do not.”
Using information developed by the Alexandria/Pineville Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Jimbo describes the Economic Impact that an expanded and improved Coliseum could generate. “Visitors and parish residents will see a modern and updated facility which provides an interest in and draw for new and larger events to the Coliseum,” says Thiels. “Larger turnouts and attendance will increase visitor spending and revenue, allowing those dollars to remain in and benefit Rapides Parish. Larger events at the updated Coliseum could create other opportunities for visitors to shop at local retailers, visit area restaurants as well as visit other area venues like the Alexandria Zoo.”
The Economic Impact Study estimates with expansion of current bookings of just 6 one-day events, the yearly economic impact would approach a conservative figure of approximately $6.5 million. Economic Impact is a term usually defined as: “the level of economic activity (spending for goods and services) occurring at a given time with the project; calculating the difference from what would otherwise be expected if the project did not occur.”
Access and parking will be improved though new driveway entrances along Highway 28 West. Additional parking and new parking surfaces will increase parking capacity from 1,300 to 2,500 spaces. The new parking arrangement with perimeter drives and new spaces combined with new night-time lighting provides for safety and ease of access for visitors. Pedestrian movement from parking areas will be facilitated through a system of collection sidewalks leading visitors into a new three-story atrium entrance constructed on the East side of the Coliseum. The parking lot improvements will allow for continued set up and hosting of the Rapides Parish Fair, with sufficient area at the newly configured site.
Construction of the new Exhibition Hall and the new three-story Atrium Lobby attached to the Coliseum facilitates hosting new and larger exhibit shows. This configuration of the new exhibition space provides for a more flexible use when smaller meeting rooms are required. With a separate covered entrance, the new attached Exhibit Hall can operate independently or in conjunction with major Coliseum events. The new Exhibit Hall will be equipped with a full service kitchen that will serve the breakout rooms as well as the expanded lobby.
Existing building systems for Air Conditioning, Ventilation, Smoke Removal, Electrical, Lighting and Acoustics will be replaced with updated technology and more energy efficient systems. This creates a more functional and comfortable interior environment when events occur with large attendance and involve motor vehicles. Current seating capacity is 7,500 seats at the arena floor and elevated tiers. New, more comfortable and form-fitting seating will be provided to expand the seating capacity from 7,500 to 10,800 seats. The bond issue will also provide a new portable high school regulation wood basketball court with new portable goals and glass backboards, a new electronic video display and four-sided virtual scoreboard. Additional audio and video equipment will create a multi-media interior environment where all visitors can experience the excitement of live performances, sport action, music and video productions.
At a recent presentation of the Coliseum’s redesign, President Donna Cafferata of the Kiwanis Club of Alexandria was both impressed and encouraged by the plans. “The presentation was very enlightening and informative,” said Cafferata. “Central Louisiana definitely deserves a venue of this caliber. The potential is there for what it could bring for children and family-focused events. Being in the center of the state, we should be winning bids for more entertainment, but we have to have a appropriate venue so we don’t keep losing these shows to Shreveport, Monroe, etc.”
The current President of the Police Jury, Oliver Overton, Jr., believes that it will take the entire community of Rapides Parish to work together and support the idea of “moving forward” to create a better future locally. “The dollars we are taking on the road and out of town can stay here,” said Overton. “Our body parts are all connected. We have to work together so we can be connected as a parish. We all want the same thing: to move forward.”
Business owners and residents of Central Louisiana are encouraged to learn as much as possible about this project prior to the election on November 6th in order to make the most informed decision. You can learn more about this important project at www.therapidesparishcoliseum.com.