Ascension Parish Council backs soccer deal for new fields after extended discussion – The Advocate

GONZALES — Trust is a two-way street and, in the end, the Ascension Parish Council agreed to trust that the Gonzales Soccer Club will live up to the word of its leaders and fulfill its end of what could be a 10-year deal to use the parish’s new multi-million soccer fields at the Lamar-Dixon Expo Center. 

With minor revisions that open the club’s books to parish audits and protect the parish against financial fraud by the club, the council unanimously approved the contract, to the applause of hundreds of young soccer players in uniform and their parents who packed the council chambers in Gonzales for a second time in two nights.

The $4.2 million soccer complex was finished last month. 

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The council also gave an early, important nod for a needed zoning modification that would allow Baton Rouge General to add a 10-bed neighborhood hospital with a 14-bed emergency room to a three-story office complex the hospital quietly got approved last year along congested La. 73 in the Prairieville/Dutchtown area.

Though the council still needs to adopt an ordinance to make the change final, the 9-1 vote Thursday accepts the parish Planning and Zoning Commission’s recommendation earlier this week and sends the plan on a path to likely approval.

The parish’s deal with Gonzales Soccer Club didn’t get approved Thursday without an extended discussion by some council members about the contract’s failure to state affirmatively that the parish could get out of the deal.

The contract is broken into a five-year term and a second five-year term that renews automatically unless the club chooses to get out. The deal doesn’t give the parish the same option. The deal also grants the club a lot of control over access to the fields, especially during the 10-month playing season.  

Councilman Travis Turner, the recreation committee chairman who backed the deal Wednesday and ended up backing it again on Thursday, did express some misgivings at the council meeting.

Turner said he is not aware of any other contract with the parish that it could not terminate.

“GSC is asking us to trust them, but it seems as if GSC doesn’t trust the parish to do the right thing,” Turner said.

He added that if the parish thinks it is a bad deal in five years, it can’t get out of the contract. 

Matt Pryor, club vice president, said the club needs that long time period to justify the investment it has and will continue to put into the new fields, including a new lightning detector, and it’s worrisome to the club that in five years, another group could try to make a better deal for the fields.

Pryor said the club wants to retain control of access and field maintenance to ensure the fields remain at a premier level but he committed to making the field available to other groups.

Pryor said Cajun Industries invested more than $600,000 of in-kind dirt work with the idea the fields would be used by the club, which is leaving several Gonzales city fields for Lamar-Dixon. The parish also gets 80 percent of the field advertising, a $5-per-player fee and all concessions. The advertising alone is expected to generate $250,000 per year for the parish recreation budget.   

“But to come in five years,” Pryor said, “after investing close to $1 million dollars and say, ‘Sorry, guys, you don’t have a place to play.’ That’s a tough risk you’re asking us to take.”

He said he did not think the parish wanted to end the deal but told Turner that as lawyers — both men are attorneys — they know that things that aren’t supposed to happen do happen.  

Turner responded to Pryor’s argument that ending the deal in five years would take the field from the kids by saying it was “disingenuous” to try to use children as a hammer to get the deal through.  

Despite that tough exchange and concerns raised by a few other members, the council became more amenable to the deal after Parish Attorney O’Neal Parenton Jr. told them they could get out of the contract, by law, if there were a breach, such as not keeping up the fields as promised.

Other council members and Parish President Kenny Matassa, a former Gonzales City councilman who worked with the club for years, expressed their confidence in the intentions of the club and Pryor to live up to their commitments to the council and children in the club.