Cajun Coast celebrates grand opening

About 100 people attended the grand opening of the $4 million Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau Welcome and Interpretative Center Wednesday.
(The Daily Review Photo by Crystal Thielepape)

St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin.
(The Daily Review Photo by Crystal Thielepape)

Carrie Stansbury, Cajun Coast, executive director, speaks during the grand opening ceremony Wednesday.
(The Daily Review Photo by Crystal Thielepape)

The Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau Welcome and Interpretive Center held a ribbon cutting Wednesday to celebrate the grand opening of the center. Among those at the ceremony were Dale Rogers, St. Mary Parish Tourist Commission vice chairman; Kimberly Walden, St. Mary Parish Tourist Commission chairman; Paul Naquin, parish president; and Carrie Stansbury, Cajun Coast executive director. Those present included Lisa Patterson, Bob Harrison, Sen. Bret Allain, Kristy Toups, Sandra Marshall, Joann Bergeron, Almetra Franklin, Shrimp & Petroleum Festival Queen Paige Johnson, David Boudier, chamber President Donna Meyer, Emily Berry, Herman Hartman, Logan Fromenthal, Rep. Sam Jones, Stan Robison, Franklin Mayor Raymond Harris, Rep. Joe Harrison, Berwick Mayor Louis Ratcliff, Carol Means, Gary McGoffin, Damon Robison, Nelson Cortez, Al Kuhlman, Karla Byron and Gloria LaCoste.
(The Daily Review Photo by Crystal Thielepape)

From left, Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Gray; Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin; and Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin.
(The Daily Review Photo by Crystal Thielepape)

2 years ago the center sank into the swamp

More than two years after it sank 4.5 feet into the swamp, the $4 million Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau Welcome and Interpretative Center held its grand opening Wednesday.
The center had been scheduled to open about a month after the date of the building collapse on June 14, 2012. Expert House Movers raised the building back to its original height in May 2013.
Cajun Coast Executive Director Carrie Stansbury said, “We’ve had a few challenging days and during some of those more challenging days I had a quote that was on top of my computer. It’s by Peter Marshall and it says, ‘When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.’ We believe this center is a diamond for St. Mary Parish.”
Cajun Coast used about $3 million in insurance money plus money it had not yet spent before the building sagged in order to repair and lift the building. Cajun Coast employees have been working in the new building since the beginning of May.
“This center will help us to promote all that is good and wonderful about St. Mary Parish … we are home to the offshore oil industry and the jumbo shrimp industry. There is so much to share to all of our visitors each and every day who come St. Mary Parish. … We want to make St. Mary Parish a great place to live, work, play and visit,” Stansbury said.
Cajun Coast attorney Gary McGoffin of Durio, McGoffin, Stagg & Ackermann law firm was hired to assist the St. Mary Parish Tourist Commission in its efforts to save the building.
“Standing here today doesn’t do justice to what these folks had to go through to make this happen. … I think the biggest point I want to make is that Carrie, this board and her staff are heroes. I came here two years and two months ago and had no idea this could be possible,” he said.
McGoffin said the group was steadfast. A lot of you here supported them in that,” McGoffin said to the roughly 100 people in attendance.
“A lot of people in the community did not and that made it hard because after this went down, if you recall, the power plant blew up, and it was the fault of the welcome center. Then a barge hit the bridge, and it was because of the welcome center … we were very fortunate all the professionals who were involved in this project up to that point in time wanted to do the right thing and everybody came together with the common understanding that we needed to fix the problem rather than fix the blame.”
As a result of that, in less than seven months, without a lawsuit, we were able to have a “fully funded settlement agreement to rebuild this,” McGoffin said. That work was done by Expert House Movers and Brownie Companies.
Celine Laubach, daughter of the late Henry “Inky” Lee, said the building was her father’s dream. He served on the tourist commission board since its inception until his death 32 years later.
“This is his dream. His dream was to look out that back and see exactly what’s there,” Laubach said.
The 16,000-square-foot, two-story building features floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the swamp it is situated in and all of the wildlife that inhabits the area.
“He wanted this building to be in the most natural habitat in the area,” Laubach said.
Lee’s wife, Marina, said the only thing the building doesn’t have that he wanted is a tower.
“That was part of his dream was to have that tower where you could go up there and view the lake,” she said.
Laubach and Lee said the building coming to fruition gives them satisfaction.
“It gives us satisfaction to know that he and everyone else worked so hard to make this happen for this community and the surrounding areas in our parish,” Laubach said.

By JEAN L. McCORKLE jmccorkle@daily-review.com

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