The City of Monroe is indebted to the W.L. “Jack” Howard administration for the many infrastructure projects of which we are benefactors. The recreation centers, the airport, and the Civic Center complex are monuments to his legacy as an effective city administrator. We have, however, not made many additions to his work over the years. There have been a few new ideas to come to fruition, but many are simply upgrades to work already completed. A ribbon cutting for upgrades to a recreation center already in existence is really not a ceremony for something new. Even a ribbon cutting for a $30 million airport in 2012 was not a celebration of something new. We had an airport. In the same spot. The 2012 ceremony was a celebration of an upgrade. Something new is not always necessary, but the upgrades are always welcomed and usher in our ties to modernity.
There has been talk about upgrading or building a new arena at the Civic Center for almost 20 years. It began with the Pierce Administration in the 1990s. The idea has resurfaced in the latter years of the Mayo administration. Do we spend millions of dollars constructing a new Arena, or do we make upgrades to the current Arena. I suggest that we upgrade, for that’s what it will essentially be.
The Mayo Administration should be commended for the manner in which the 21st century airport upgrade was undertaken. I can appreciate the design process and the way that it demolished the original structure, upgrading and replacing it with the new. I was there at the ribbon cutting in 2009 and took photographs of the entire process from dirt shoveling to the cutting of the ribbon. It was a very fascinating process of which did not shut down airport operations. Some passengers did have to manage the operation with a few delays and setbacks to baggage claim but as far as being able to fly in and fly out, the upgraded terminal did not cease the airport flow.
I suggest that the Monroe Civic Center complex undergo the same upgrading process. One of the arguments in upgrading is the interruption of events that regularly take place at the Civic Center. Budget items depend on the Fair, Delta Fest, Rodeo, Miss Louisiana Pageant, graduations, weddings, banquets, and annual events by social organizations. There is a way to keep these events in operation and upgrade the complex at the same time. You go about it the same way you went about the airport. You upgrade in pieces.
I think the entire complex needs an upgrade. The structure is solid but modifications would bring it up to a 21st century operation. Until this area can support concerts and events at full capacity (7,200 seats of which the arena can host) talk of a new Arena are useless. Upgrade the lighting, the seating, the bathrooms and concessions stands. Upgrade the VIP rooms and changing rooms. Modify the entrance look. These can be done without demolishing the structure and rebuilding. Actually the curved shape of the Arena is a physical feature of Downtown Monroe and we should keep it.
The Theater is still one of the best in the state. It too just needs a few upgrades. Better video screens, new seating, and an overhaul of the backstage areas. Maybe we don’t need an orchestra pit, since many of our events require the covering of the pit. With the Miss Louisiana Pageant and other pageant/fashion show styled events that frequent the theater, maybe we should do a design change and make it more feasible for those type events. Maybe we can add box seating as a luxury item in the theater. Charge more, make more money. (People like the VIP experience)
I think the Conference Hall should be leveled and rebuilt as to host more luxurious ballroom typed events. Take up the ceiling height, install some mirrored walls, fancy chandeliers, carpeted flooring and some grand pianos. Many hotels host better conference and banquet rooms. The Civic Center should get in that business.
I would finally recommend that we eliminate the equestrian pavilion…all 46,000 square feet of it. Erect a 20 story hotel in the rear of the Arena and break the skyline. One of the major deterrents to conventions and visitor attraction is access to hotel space. With a new hotel connected to the complex, it can only guarantee more shows and better experiences. Repave the entire complex and install a water sprout system near the fountain to create an attraction for tourists and put up a jumbotron screen in the courtyard between the conference hall, theater, and Arena entrance. It would be great for outdoor concerts and gatherings like Christmas, New Year ball drops or 4th of July celebrations, or a general hangout spot that shows breaking news or music videos.
These are just a few of my recommendations for the enhancement of the work already done by all of the administrations since Howard. The Pierce administration should be commended for the Convention Center for it has hosted a number of smaller events and the Mayo Administration should be commended for its upgrades to many of the recreation centers and the airport. However, a new facility is not needed. Let’s just upgrade what we have, because it is still one of the most successful facilities in the state of Louisiana.