Gonzales project set to launch

Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU --  A backhoe sits at the mouth of a newly constructed road which will lead into the new Edenborne subdivision off of La. Highway 44, south of the I-10 freeway near Burnside in this photo, taken earlier this month.
Advocate staff photo by ADAM LAU -- A backhoe sits at the mouth of a newly constructed road which will lead into the new Edenborne subdivision off of La. Highway 44, south of the I-10 freeway near Burnside in this photo, taken earlier this month.

Edenborne to house new RPCC campus

After six years of delays and changes to the project, city officials are hopeful that the proposed Edenborne development at the intersection of La. 44 and Interstate 10 is ready to take off.

River Parishes Community College has purchased a 43-acre tract of the Edenborne property and is preparing to break ground on the construction of a new $17 million campus, said Ed Jenkins, the project manager for CSRS, a Baton Rouge architecture and engineering firm.

The 13-year-old community and technical college is currently located in a leased facility on La. 22 in Sorrento.

Jenkins said plans call for the new campus to open in March 2014.

He said officials with CSRS, River Parishes Community College and Guy Hopkins Construction of Baton Rouge, which won the construction bid, and its architecture firm, Grace & Hebert Architects of Baton Rouge, held a pre-construction meeting Dec. 17 to discuss the plans moving forward.

RPCC Chancellor Joe Ben Welch, who has led the college since its inception in 1999, “has been waiting for a long time” for construction of the new facility to begin, Jenkins said.

“That pre-construction meeting was a huge milestone for the chancellor. It was a great day,” Jenkins said.

It also was music to the ears of Gonzales city officials, who say they have been hoping to see progress with the community college and the Edenborne development.

“It’s huge to get it in town, on the Interstate and visible,” said Clay Stafford, the city’s clerk and finance director. “We think they’re gonna be a magnet for retail and other development. It will be a point of pride for the city of Gonzales.”

The new 83,000-square-foot facility will nearly triple the current capacity of RPCC’s leased home on La. 22. The larger space is needed to keep pace with RPCC’s rapid growth, Welch has said. He said he is hopeful enrollment can more than double to nearly 6,000 students.

The new campus is at the center of the proposed 340-acre development. The 43-acre site was purchased for $2 million from the developers, and it will be nestled between a retail shopping center along I-10, a proposed hotel, a 384-unit apartment complex and 438 single-family residential lots.

The 1.5-story campus building will be “totally different” from the current campus, Jenkins said, consisting of administrative and faculty offices, classrooms, computer labs, a library, student services offices and a commons area for students. There also is room for further development if the college continues to grow, he said.

Though optimistic, city officials still aren’t sure what the future holds for the development, which could become much larger than the Tanger Outlet Center and Cabela’s development at La. 30 and I-10, located not far from the Edenborne development.

The project has been in the works for more than six years now and is in its second incarnation.

Stafford said the development was close to taking off in 2008, but “everything went away” following the financial crash. The financial and legal problems that ensued led the property to be ordered for seizure by Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies and sold for unpaid taxes.

He said RPCC is the only client that has signed on to the project so far.

“It’s really still in question how big it’s gonna get and how fast it’s gonna get there,” Stafford said.

Bill Clark, a Michigan developer who is one of the original Edenborne investors, said that he no longer was involved in the day-to-day aspects of the project and couldn’t comment. He referred all comments to co-investor Brian Rickel. Attempts to reach Rickel for comment were unsuccessful.

Although city officials haven’t received many new details about the development, they say RPCC’s progress gives them reason for optimism.

Gonzales Mayor Barney Arceneaux said he believes the multi-use development combining single- and multi-family housing with commercial development and the community/technical college will be a boon for the city.

“It’s a wonderful project for Gonzales,” he said. “It opens up that corridor where I think we could have more development.”

He said any development at Edenborne will spur the development of roughly 400 acres across La. 44 and along I-10, known as the M.P. Evans property, that was annexed into the city earlier this year.

“I’m just elated about the whole thing,” Arceneaux said. “I’m all about economic development. To me economic development means tax dollars for the city, but more importantly jobs for local people.”

“This could really blow up,” Stafford said. “That’s why we’ve been working so hard on Edenborne since ‘06.”