HB 420 will now be up for debate on the House floor, which will determine the fate of the proposed legislation.
The IND has been unable to reach the bill’s author, state Rep. Vincent Pierre, D-Lafayette, but we did speak Monday with Mike Stagg, a local tech consultant and civic activist who serves as vice-president of Holy Rosary Redevelopment, the would-be beneficiary of the redistributed revenue.
That HB 420 calls for taking the state’s portion of Lafayette’s hotel/motel tax — money that has been allocated to the Cajundome and its convention center to cover maintenance and repair costs since 1998 — is of little consequence to Stagg. He argues the budgetary needs of the Cajundome are trumped by Holy Rosary’s historical significance, and the threat posed by its dilapidated condition.
Cajundome Executive Director Greg Davis does not share Stagg's views on the proposed redistribution. "I most certainly see the value of [Holy Rosary's] restoration; I went there through eighth grade, and my brother graduated high school from there," Davis says. "But for the Cajundome ... if the Legislature says give that [$200,000] to someone else, we would have to find a way to keep covering the costs of maintaining a 28-year-old building and a convention center that's 12 years old."
Pierre’s bill, co-sponsored by another Lafayette Dem., state Rep. Terry Landry, is somewhat vague, and according to Ben Berthelot, executive director for the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, it remains unclear which local entity would actually carry the budgetary burden if the legislation passes.
Each year, the hotel/motel tax, including the portion HB 420 seeks to take, is doled out by the state Department of Treasury. In addition to the portion that goes to the Cajundome, another $200,000 is distributed to LCVC, which is then redistributed to 24 public nonprofits from throughout the parish. To avoid the impact the bill’s passage could have on the Cajundome, the funds HB 420 seeks to take could conceivably come from the portion now divvied out to the nonprofits.
“They can put out all the lists they want, but it’s all trumped by the story of this building,” says Stagg, referring to a list supplied by Berthelot showing the nonprofits that could be impacted.
Saving Holy Rosary is no doubt a worthwhile cause.
Describing Holy Rosary as “sacred ground,” Stagg says the importance of the site centers on the countless educations it provided to black students from Acadiana and throughout the nation during the days of segregation. When the school opened its doors in 1913, it was illegal in Louisiana to provide a full education to black students, says Stagg, a testament to the resolve of Holy Rosary’s founder, Father Phillip Keller, and its main financial benefactor, Catherine Drexel, who in their fight for social justice went against the mainstream of the church.
“That history is critical to understanding the South, and it’s now in danger of being erased,” says Stagg. “This is not about taking money away from Greg Davis. It’s about preserving sacred ground, a place that represents a physical manifestation of [Drexel and Keller’s] belief in faith and social justice.”
Closed in 1993 by the Diocese of Lafayette, the school soon began to deteriorate to a point of near disrepair. Though the diocese donated the property to the Holy Family Sisters in December 2010, HB 420 names Holy Rosary Redevelopment, the nonprofit represented by Stagg, as the organization in charge of the school’s resurrection and the redistributed state funds.
Though HB 420 includes no details for how the reallocated funds would be used, Stagg says Holy Rosary Redevelopment has already obtained architectural plans and a $900,000 cost estimate from J.B. Mouton Inc., which would include restoring the roof, floors and exterior of the main school building.Reopening a school is not in the plans for the reconstituted building. Some possibilities, says Stagg, include a community health center, a multi-media conference center, and a museum to chronicle the history of Drexel’s work in the South and to document the school’s impact on the thousands of students educated there in its eight decades of existence.