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The Next Big Project: Renovate vs. Rebuild the Monroe Civic Center

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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KNOE 8 News) - The mayor of Monroe's "next big project" is a brand new Civic Center Arena. But the project is sparking debate over whether brand new really means brand new, or just remodeled.

In the second of her special reports, our Victoria Shirley takes a look at a nearby city who recently faced a similar decision:

Dori Carbaugh has fond childhood memories of visiting the Rapides Parish Coliseum in Alexandria. "I remember coming here to see different shows when I was little," said Carbaugh. She wants to give those same memories to her family, but the Coliseum isn't what it used to be. "I think its kind of been an eyesore, it's just been sitting here," said Carbaugh.

The years haven't been kind to the 48 year old landmark that has held thousands of events and seen famous visitors like Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis, and Ronald Reagan. Without proper upkeep, it's grown old and outdated.

Even the original seats remain, the color scheme, reminiscent of the year it opened in the 1960's. The Rapides Parish Coliseum is relevant to the Monroe Civic Center discussion because it was built around the same time and holds about the same amount of people.

The Rapides Parish Coliseum holds 6,500 people. The Monroe Civic Center Arena holds 7,600 people. The coliseum opened its doors in 1965 and the civic center, built that same year, opened in 1967. Now as Monroe debates whether to re-build or update, Rapides parish is one step ahead and going the renovation route.

Coliseum authority vice-chair Jimbo Thiels says considering how much it will cost, renovations are in the best interest for tax payers. "We feel like we can renovate our facility for 23 million and we feel like it will cost almost 60 million to tear down and rebuild," said Thiels.

A tax to fund the project has failed twice before, but to Theils surprise after a year long campaign, the tax passed. "It was a very hard thing to do because passing a tax during this day and time is not a very popular thing," said Thiels.

Voters passed a millege tax and bond issue in November to fund the renovations and maintenance, spinning everything into place.

For 40 million dollars less than it would cost to re-build, the renovated facility will expand to hold more than 10-thousand people, include a three level lobby, sky boxes, more parking, state of the art technology, and will feature a new modern design.

But most importantly, Thiels says it will keep the big acts from passing them over. "So if we can bring those shows here we can keep our people at home and have our money spent here," said Thiels.

Not having to drive to other cities for major acts, was the biggest selling point for Rapides Parish resident Christina Judge. "Hopefully it brings a lot of things to Alexandria and keeps us from traveling."

As for the Monroe Civic Center, Thiels is offering advice to renovate rather than rebuild. He believes Monroe's arena is in better shape and renovations wouldn't cost as much as theirs. "It just seems like it would be a horrible injustice to the public as well as the facility you have now to tear it down," Thiels said. "I just think ya'lls facility is beautiful, I've been in it many times, I see no reason to tear it down and start over," he added.

Rapides Coliseum's makeover will begin within the next six months and the Carbaugh family couldn't be more excited. "It'll be nice to see it updated and used again," said Carbaugh.

The new and improved coliseum will open in the Fall of 2015.

In our third 'Next Big Project' special report, Victoria Shirley looks at how both Shreveport and Little Rock came to the decision to build new arenas and the advice they offer to Monroe.

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