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The Next Big Project: Monroe mayor details his vision for a new arena

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MONROE, La. (KNOE 8 News) - The mayor of Monroe's "Next Big Project", is a brand new civic center arena.

The Monroe Civic Center Arena is a city landmark for over a half century and it has had thousands of acts pass through their doors.  But how to keep the aging facility current is a question several nearby cities have recently faced, including Alexandria, Little Rock, and Shrevport-Bossier area and now Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo says the city also needs to figure out how to keep up. "This arena was a visionary during its hey day, but now we're in the 21st century and we're feeling like its outdated," said Mayo.

Keeping up with this aging facility isn't cheap, the city has spent over one million dollars over the past five years for the repair of this building and on top of that, it costs 3.2 million dollars per year just for its upkeep. "We're doing everything we can with a building that is 45 years old," said interim civic center director Charles Thomas who says, with the civic center only generating 1.7 million dollars a year, it's actually losing money for the city. That's why city leaders say something needs to be done quickly. "In order to be successful, you must improve and to stay dormant, you can't get anywhere, you can't compete, you lose customers and that's what we are doing now," said Thomas.

To kick start the process, the city council hired the Jackson based architecture firm M3A to conduct a 90 day and $95,000.00 feasibility study.  They will offer a plan that will include location, cost, and size options. But Mayo says the recommendations will be just that, recommendations. "Nothing is set in stone 100% because there may have to be tweaking and that type of thing," and months before seeing the study's conclusions the mayor admits what he ultimately wants. "Our preference quite frankly is to have a brand new facility," said Mayo.

When it comes to paying for it, the city doesn't have extra money saved up like Bossier City did to finance the Century Link Center. But the mayor isn't worried. He equates the experience to building the Monroe Regional Airport, where unexpected stimulus money became available. "I'm optimistic, as we did with the airport there will be other funding opportunities that we can pursue," he said. Regardless of what financing options are laid out, Mayo says tax payers will likely help foot at least part of the bill. "I'm sure we'll have to go to them to ask them to be a part of making this a reality," said the mayor.

But if a brand new arena is built. Will it be used? Of the 350 events held at the Civic Center, only three sold-out within the past year.  But Mayo is confident if a new larger venue is built, it will not only attract people but also the larger acts. "If you build it, they will come," said Mayo.

If tax payers are expected pay for the arena, ultimately voters will decide if the mayor's "Next Big Project" will become more than just a vision.  

The feasibility study is expected to be released by this summer.

 

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