Photograph: Mayor Julius Alsandor at the ODDD meeting on Friday morning. (Photograph by Bobby Ardoin.)
The Opelousas Downtown Development District agreed on Friday to heavily-assist in funding the first phase of a proposed South City Park athletic complex project that includes installing an outdoor track at Donald Gardner Stadium.
Appointed members from the District voiced little opposition as they voted to bond approximately $4.7 million of ODDD sales tax money to help pay for the $6.75 million overall cost associated with the initial phase.
Construction for the Phase 1 plan, according to District officials, will begin after the conclusion of the 2023 high school football season and include overall stadium renovations for restrooms, concessions, football field and the eight-lane track.
In addition to the designated funding from the ODDD, the costs for the project includes funding from the City of Opelousas, funding from St. Landry Parish government and state capital outlay revenue received by the city.
Opelousas Mayor Julius Alsandor and city manager Anthony Daniels attended the Friday meeting and broke down the costs not associated with the ODDD share of the funding.
Alsandor said that the Board of Alderman has already approved $500,000 to fund Phase 1, with an identical amount that Alsandor said has already been obligated from parish American Rescue Act money.
Daniels said about $1 million has been obtained from state funding for the South City Park project.
ODDD member Keith Broussard said during the Friday meeting that financial accountants hired by the District estimate that the District currently receives a maximum of $100,000 monthly from an additional one percent sales tax collected in a designated economic inducement district located in some portions of Opelousas.
Broussard added during the meeting that the District currently has $2.3 million in a savings account controlled by ODDD.
Although Westminster Christian Academy school officials announced on Thursday night that private donations have been obtained to pay for an eight-lane outdoor track that is expected to be ready at the school by the end of July.
Athletic Director Keith Leon said that the track, when completed, will be available for use by parish schools.
Members of the ODDD however decided to move forward with the South City Park project to ostensibly avoid any increases in construction costs.
ODDD member Pat Fontenot said that while the availability of Westminster track is worth noting, that having a redesigned area of South City Park that includes the similar track which provides what Fontenot said is an opportunity to place Opelousas on the map,
“In the past we have always found ways not to do things. Right now (the ODDD) is sitting on money that can be bonded out. These are tax dollars that are used for the community and we now have the opportunity to provide a first class facility for the next forty years. If we back off now, we will have to keep spending more money (for the project),” Fontenot said.
Alsandor said discussion for the stadium project has taken too long.
“It’s been about one and a half years about when is this going to occur. It’s my feeling that (the city) has been behind the eight-ball for too long. (Opelousas) right now is located along a growth corridor that includes I-49. The city has to be part of that continued growth. This project is going to be a tourism mechanism that is transforming,” said Alsandor.
ODDD member Ogden Pitre questioned however whether the ODDD should first further discuss an overall vision for South City Park, which includes potential revenue producing venues such as a new Civic Center and recreational vehicle park..
“I’m thinking maybe we should be looking at the entirety of the park and not just the field and the stadium. I would like to listen to more ideas on what we could do that involves the whole park,” Pitre said.
ODDD executive chairperson Lena Charles noted after the vote that the appropriation from the ODDD and other funding sources gives the city “opportunities for the future and once (the Phase 1 renovation) are put in place, it will give the citizens something to feel good about.”
Charles admitted that the ODDD funding is a “heavy (financial) lift” for the District.
During the meeting Charles said allocating the funding from the ODDD represents “a hard decision, but this is one that we needed to make in order to move the city forward,” said Charles.
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