Monroe Mayor Friday Ellis says he will not pursue plans to build a new $100-million arena to replace Monroe Civic Center.
Instead, Ellis said his administration would consider upgrades to the Civic Center complex.
Ellis elaborated on his plans for the Civic Center in an interview with The Ouachita Citizen Tuesday night the Monroe City Council’s regular meeting.
In the years before he left office, Ellis’ predecessor, Mayor Jamie Mayo, promoted the construction of a $100-million arena and conference center in downtown Monroe. Mayo never released documents outlining how the city would pay for the project though the city spent some $800,000 with an architectural firm to design a new arena and identify sources of funding to build it. That study was never released publicly.
Ellis suggested upgrades to the existing Civic Center complex could cost less than a new arena and possibly draw more business.
“I think we should pursue looking at our current facilities that need upgrades,” Ellis said. “I think we have assets here in the city like the Jack Howard Theatre, the Civic Center and our conference center that nobody else around here has.”
Ellis explained that upgrades to the Civic Center might include repainting the Civic Center and repairing the facility’s ventilation system.
“It just needs a refresh,” Ellis said. “A coat of paint will go a long way. I know there is heating, ventilation and air conditioning type of stuff that’s there and will probably need to be upgraded if we are going to continue this thing for the next 20 or so years.”
Along with potential Civic Center upgrades, Ellis said the city would push development of a hotel near the Civic Center to attract more events.
“Currently right now, we don’t have a hotel that’s attached to our conference center,” Ellis said. “I think the limitations that have held us back in the past have been the lack of hotel access.”
“We got the space. It’s just finding what is best that’s also user friendly,” Ellis added.
According to Ellis, building a multilevel parking garage on one of the surrounding parking lots also was a possibility, if needed.
Sources of funding for Civic Center improvements and related projects could include grants from organizations like the Monroe-West Monroe Convention and Visitors Bureau or the city’s capital infrastructure fund, according to Ellis. However, Civic Center projects, Ellis said, were not a “top priority” as his administration worked to complete its list of projects seeking state funding. The city is expected to send its project wish list to the state Legislature in November when officials begin examining projects from across the state for possible funding through the Legislature’s Capital Outlay budget.
“I don’t foresee myself digging into the capital outlay process for a project like that,” Ellis said.
In other news, the City Council adopted a resolution authorizing the city’s purchasing manager to seek bids for a project replacing guard rails along Loop Road, Plum Street and near Pecanland Mall. The estimated cost of the project is $41,595.95.