New Visitors Center grandly introduced to parish

Staff Writer
Plaquemine Post South
RIBBON CUTTING…Mrs. Monica Fleniken, left, is assisted by Iberville Parish Assessor Randy Sexton, second from left, as she cuts the ribbon to official open the new Iberville Parish Visitors Center located in Grosse Tete near I-10 last week. Finiken is a relative the original mayor of Grosse Tete, C.J. Finiken and the center is somewhat modeled after his residence. Looking on are Senator Rob Marionneaux and Representative Karen St. Germain. In the background on the front porch of the center are: Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso, second from left, and building contractor Edward Earl Comeaux and architect Bradley Guerin, far right, and other dignitaries.

 Iberville Parish’s new Visitors Center was grandly introduced to North Iberville residents, state and local dignitaries, and interested parish wide citizens Friday with opening ceremonies held at midday.

A crowd of nearly 200 showed up for a view of the interior of the new facility as well as lunch and a series of state and local dignitaries directly involved with the new tourist center.

By Monday, however, the very best news of visitors trickled in to Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso.

“Kathy Sparks (new center site manager) called to tell me the center had a total of seventy-six visitors on Saturday and Sunday.  Now that is a great start for our newest parish facility,” noted Ourso Monday morning.

The new center is located in the Village of Grosse Tete surrounded by six highly prized oak trees within a park adjacent to Bayou Grosse Tete.  It is just off Interstate 10 at the Grosse Tete exit.

Summing up the significance of the new tourist center, Secretary of the Louisiana Dept. of Natural Resources Scott Angelle commented: “This center will serve as a new gateway to the Atchafalaya Basin. It will draw tourists and visitors from I-10 to learn more about this historic parish and about the Atchafalaya Basin, the crown jewel of our state’s natural resources.”

Angelle also praised the efforts and vision of Parish President Ourso to get the facility funded and built. And he complimented the support provided by local State Senator Robert Marionneaux and State Representative Karen St. Germain in getting the project to become a reality.

Under Angelle’s guidance the Atchafalaya Basin Program contributed $300,000 to the $1.7 million welcome center.

The development of the visitors center came about after a parish planning and zoning study was conducted by the Moore Planning Group. Through the study, the feasibility of a tourist center in the parish came about, and Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso and the Iberville Parish Tourist Commission and its staff ran with the opportunity. Several months of construction later and the welcome center is now a reality.

Plaquemine native Bradley Guerin, who is with Fusion Architecture Firm, designed the building. Comeaux Brothers, under the leadership of Plaquemine resident Edward Earl Comeaux, did the construction work.

Much of the planning and coordinating was done by Consultant/Acting ITC Director Courtney Zito-Elliott, with assistance from Tourism Coordinator Sissy Irwin and Tourist Commission Members Janet Bryant, Susie Burns, Jeannie David, Julie Hebert, Madeline Kessler, and Jody Wilbert.

Additional staff was hired during the development of the facility. Taking over as the Visitor Services Manager is Kathy Sparks, Services Supervisor is David Lovette, and specialists are Nan Calcagno, Mollie Rattler, Julie Rogge, and Joyne Ferguson. The Grosse Tete Task Force also provided assistance. Village of Grosse Tete Mayor Mike Chauffe provided additional assistance throughout the project.

A special open house was provided to visitors, followed by lunch and ceremonial remarks. A special touch to the interior of the center is two wood sculptures by artist Lynn Vidal Varnado. One is of a Louisiana pelican and the other is a map of Iberville Parish.

The event concluded with the official ribbon cutting ceremony. Mrs. Monica Fleniken Wille, who is a relative of the original mayor of Grosse Tete, C.J. Fleniken, was invited to cut the ribbon. The Fleniken family home was used as a model for the design of the welcome center, which is Acadian style with a long front porch.

Ralph Wille and Parish Assessor Randy Sexton, who is a resident of North Iberville, assisted Fleniken in cutting the ribbon.

Senior Marionneaux and Representative St. Germain joined with Angelle in making remarks about the importance and the achievement for Iberville Parish. Mayor Chauffe, Patrick Moore of Moore Planning Group, and Assistant Secretary of the La. Dept. of Culture, Recreation, and Tourism Jim Hutchinson added to the positive remarks. Zito-Elliott was the Master of Ceremonies. Invocation was provided by Father Arun John of St. Joseph Catholic Church, while the Rev. Anthony H. Royal of New Mount Olive Baptist Church made the closing prayer.

Parish Council members who attended the event were introduced as well as Randall Dunn and Edward “Lucky” Songy from the council office.

Prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Parish President Ourso spoke briefly and pointed to the efforts, dedication, and inspiration of the members of the parish tourist commission and its staff. He joked that he had little input on the design of the welcome center, except, finally, what color mulch to use in the landscaping, due to the fact none of the tourist staff members were around to veto him. He remarked about the importance of bringing visitors to the parish and the basin and what a beautiful welcome center that has been created to greet them.

VIEW OF THE NEW CENTER…This is a view of the front entrance to the new Iberville Parish Visitors Center in Grosse Tete. It is located amid a grove of six stately oak trees. They are named after the six major communities in the parish.