City Hall’s second floor meeting room was almost filled to capacity for a public hearing on a motel proposed for north Plaquemine and speakers on the issue were split about 50-50, for and against.
Srinivas Reddy “Remi” Gavini is working with Fusion Architecture’s Brad Guerin to design a two-building motel with a parking lot between the two sides.
He is the owner of the existing Pelican Shoppette near the entrance to the city and the attached strip shopping center now. The shopping center property on the La. 1 side of the historic Turnerville area will be the location of the motel if Gavini can get the permits for it.
After a number of speakers at the hearing expressed concerns about the possibility of security issues because of the openness of the lodging facility, Guerin said he, Gavini and Mayor Ed Reeves Jr. were meeting Thursday to discuss making changes to quell those concerns.
At the hearing, Reeves pointed out the City Council would be taking no action at the hearing but would be taking into consideration the comments made Tuesday. The matter will be further discussed and action by the council likely taken at an upcoming meeting.
“It’s got the potential to be a good project but we’ll see,” the mayor said, then continued by saying a lot of concerns about the possible new motel would be answered during the hearing.
Selectman Lindon Rivet Jr., who represents District 1 where the motel would be located, said the hearing’s “wonderful turnout…shows the tremendous amount of interest the people have in this project.”
“We wanted to hear all the comments from everybody, whether good, bad or ugly,” he said.
Rivet and several others who spoke said there was a need for more motels and hotels in Plaquemine and Guerin was one of them. “The demand is here for another hotel,” he said.
Guerin said when Gavini came to him to launch the project, he told Guerin, “I’m about to retire and this is what I want to do.”
The architect said the new motel will be “the gateway to Plaquemine – this will be the first thing people are going to see.” He also said he understood that residents were concerned about how a new motel would affect the neighborhood and its residents.
“One major concern is how is this motel going to be run,” Guerin said, continuing Gavini had assured him he “is looking to do what is right.”
Later, Guerin said local events like weddings at Nottoway Plantation and baseball and softball tournaments hosted by local schools cause many people to stay in other cities, particularly Port Allen.
“What goes to Baton Rouge with them is the money they would’ve spent, the taxes that were collected,” he said. “They didn’t get their gas here, they didn’t eat in our restaurants. They didn’t do any of that.”
Dave Koulpasis, a local contractor who will likely be in charge of the construction of the new motel and is currently the general contractor for Nottoway, said “the need for rooms is very desperate.”
He said weddings at the plantation have as many as 250 to 400 guests and “the biggest problem that they have for those weddings is that’s there’s nowhere for people to stay.”
“I think it’s a great idea and I think the property is perfect,” Koulpasis said. “I think I’d rather see this motel go up than any other kind of business.”
“I understand that there are concerns,” he continued. “There always are…You’re never going to make everybody happy.”
Pat Dorsey, who said she has worked at nationwide chain motels and hotels, was one of several speakers who were concerned about the possibility of crime increasing in the area because of the proposed motel.
“There were always problems at those hotels,” she said. “It was so bad that they could not afford the security that they needed.”
“…This is our major concern,” Dorsey continued. “We don’t want that kind of behavior in our neighborhood.”
Katie Price Anderson is another resident concerned about the possibility of the increase of crime in the neighborhood if the motel is constructed.
“The crime rate in our neighborhood is almost zero,” she said. “I can sit outside under my carport and feel comfortable.”
Anderson said she would like to be able to maintain that comfort level “and not have to worry about transients coming in and out of a hotel…I am against the hotel totally.”
Hope Kinberger was another Turnerville area resident opposed to the motel.
“We’re a quiet neighborhood and we love it and we want to stay there,” she said. “It would be a shame to have to move because of the crime.”
Kinberger said whoever builds in any area of Plaquemine “needs to be a good neighbor, needs to be conscious of their surrounding and their neighbors and what their impact is going to be.”
“They should maintain the value of the property or improve it, not degrade it,” she continued.
Others defended Gavini, like Ryan Comeaux, who said that while he has some of the same concerns others do, “something needs to be done there that’s positive, rather than what’s been there.”
John Morgan is another resident of the area who supported Gavini’s hope for a new motel where the old shopping center now stands.
“This man has done everything by the book,” he said. “…This man has followed every rule and yet we stand before him and judge him on what we think might would happen.”
“Plaquemine needs to grow or become another White Castle,” Morgan continued. “Plaquemine needs to grow and we need to trust one another.”
Steele Loubiere, a resident of Turnerville, summed up the situation this way.
“I would like to emphasize that there is probably only going to be one opportunity in our lifetime to redevelop that property and to do something creative with it,” he said.
“…If it is going to be redeveloped, please, please, try to do something we can be proud of,” Loubiere said.
While describing the details of the project, Guerin said Gavini and his wife said they plan to retire and move to Plaquemine when the motel is constructed. Some in the hearing questioned his intent.
“Please don’t stop this project,” Gavini said, adding he is putting everything he has into it. As far as his moving to Plaquemine, he said he has no reason not to move to the city.
“I am coming here and living with you,” he said. “I will be your neighbor and this will be my neighborhood. I will make sure this motel is safe and good.”