I find it gratifying that in the midst of a discussion Wednesday about whether or not the St. Mary Parish Council should spend $996,500 to renovate a building in Morgan City used by AARP, Parish Councilman Peter Soprano had this to say:
"I want to meet all the needs of all the senior citizens in St. Mary Parish not just on the east end … right now we’re laying off people who were cooking for the Council on Aging on the west end of the parish, and yet we’re going to spend a million dollars on a building over there."
Salute. Could it be we finally see eye to eye on something, sir?
From the "things that make you go, Huh?" department.
Here’s a nickel’s worth of advice for free: If you’re running for office in St. Mary Parish, and schedule a political fundraiser to garner support from your constituents, it would make really good sense to hold that event in St. Mary Parish, not Stephensville, which is in St. Martin Parish.
Time and again, historic preservation in the City of Franklin has proven that while it may be uncomfortable and fight-inducing, almost without exception it has stood the test of time.
Last night the district commission heard from Dr. Gary Wiltz, owner now of the notorious Western Auto building at the corner of Main and Jackson streets. Wiltz presented proposed plans, in concept at this stage, of what he intends to do with the property. Let me say, it’s nothing less than spectacular.
If you don’t know, that property has sat abandoned for more than 20 years after a squabble between the previous owner and the Historic District Commission. The owner had plans for the building which the commission denied based on the provisions of the district ordinance, and the owner rebelled by simply letting the building sit empty all those years.
The building has become legendary in that time. It had come to symbolize two opposing philosophies depending on what side you were on. To some, it was an indictment against historic preservation and commission authority, forbidding an owner to do what he wishes with his property, and the result was an eyesore and nuisance to the community. On the other hand, to preservationists it became a pinnacle signpost of determination and will, a stance that, until recently, remained undetermined as to its effect.
Time may not heal all wounds, but it does tend to smooth things over. When the Wiltzs acquired the building there was a rush of community speculation on what they’d do with it, followed by an impatience when nothing obvious happened, then an irritation that nothing seemed to be happening at all. It should silence the naysayers, doom-reapers and whiners out there to note that the new owners have taken the time to carefully consider their options, enlist the help of the state architect in designing a renovation that will not only serve their needs and that of the district, but the entire local community as well.
Right across the street, extensive renovations are well under way on the old Commercial Hotel, now the home of Chez Hope. They’re putting a ton of work and money into that building, inside and out, and that entire street corner will be a shining example of Franklin’s unique historic district, as well as the perseverance of the district supporters over the years.
The commission has the tools and the knowledge to make decisions that aren’t always popular. At the same time, they have the common sense to know "when to say when" and recognize that not everything is salvageable, not everything is even worthy of saving. That’s a razor-thin line, which I’m certain will be sharper in the near future when other issues, such as the Center Theater, come up again.
But for now, with the vision to stand firm and the sensibility to say "uncle," historic preservation has taken a leap forward in this city.
If you’re an Internet kinda person, please go check out www.cajuncoastpaddle.com.
The Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau, our tourism agency, recently put this site online, in conjunction with a paddling trails brochure I told you about a few weeks ago.
Brochures are great and valuable, but they can’t reach the global awareness that the Internet can. Now, all in one place online, is a resource for paddlers interested in experiencing the unique and magical ecological areas we have here in St. Mary Parish. There’s maps of the trails, lists of accommodations, you name it.
Great job, folks. My hat is off to you.
I’d still like to see some facilities for paddlers located somewhere near the bear refuge and the Franklin area. Inexpensive and relatively low upkeep, I think it’d bring some folks into town who’d spend a dollar or two here and that is never a bad thing.
I certainly don’t want to do a disservice to anyone in the parish striving and sweating and bleeding to bring big business and industry here. My hat is off to all of you, as well.
But I also think it’s foolish to put all our eggs in one basket, as the adage goes. We’ve got multitudes of golden opportunities here, even if small, a whole bunch of them amounts to a whole lot of eggs in a whole lot of baskets. When you got that many eggs, you don’t have be fearful of cracking a few.