Bowlers are returning to Baton Rouge in 2025 for the U.S. Bowling Congress Open Tournament, marking the third time Louisiana’s capital city will host an event that attracts thousands of visitors over a period of four months.
The Metro Council on Wednesday gave the Mayor’s Office authority to enter into a contract to secure Baton Rouge as the host city for the event in 2025. The council unanimously voted to approve paying the Bowling Congress a bid fee of between $1 million and $1,375,000.
The fee is based on an estimate of the number of tournament players at $20 a head, and the subsidy will be used for the Bowling Congress to pack, ship, install and construct the bowling facility at the River Center and, upon completion, remove it from the site.
The city-parish will begin making payments of $125,000 a year beginning in 2018 and ending in 2025. That means it will be up to a different mayor-president and Metro Council to find the money when the time comes.
“It will be a new budget, new mayor, new council people and they will make those decisions as they go forward,” John Price, assistant chief administrative officer to Mayor-President Kip Holden, told the council.
Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis pressed the Mayor’s Office and the Baton Rouge tourism bureau, who are negotiating the contract, about what would happen to the city-parish if a future administration does not fund the tournament.
“I want to make sure the city is protected in the event that a new administration decides this is not a priority,” Collins-Lewis said.
The contract is still being negotiated, Price said, and the contingencies would be addressed in the final contract.
Phillip Lillard, a council watcher who frequently attends meetings, told council members he believes subsidizing the event is an improper use of taxpayer funds.
“There are people in this city who are paying taxes that don’t want to be making investments. When I want to invest, I go to the bank,” Lillard said. “If you want to build infrastructure with tax money, then great. But if you want to invest in the Bowling Congress or whatever, then I’d think twice about it.”
The agreement has a provision that guarantees 60,000 hotel rooms will be filled by the conference, and anything short of that will result in a $10 per room reimbursement to the city-parish.
In other business, Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe grilled officials overseeing the Dr. Leo S. Butler Community Center about a scathing audit in August over missing funds at the facility.
Loupe asked the director of the center, Sherman Ruth, a series of questions from the audit, noting that over a six-month period the center had spent more than $12,000 on catering for meals that staff sometimes took part in.
Ruth said the meals were for a group of seniors fed at the center every Tuesday. He said employees have undergone ethics training since, and the center has contracted with the Council on Aging to provide the meals.
The audit led to the arrest of a worker at the center, Matthew Patterson II, on charges of felony theft and malfeasance. He admitted to the director that he had pocketed more than $2,200 from the center, according to the warrant for his arrest.
Ruth said the center is moving away from accepting cash payments to mitigate theft.
The center is in Tara Wicker’s district which means she has authority over the operations. Wicker didn’t speak on the subject during the council meeting, but afterward said Loupe was trying to embarrass her with the “courtroom interrogation” of her employee.
“It was more politically motivated than it was about trying to get the facts and real information,” Wicker said.
Editor’s note: This story was modified on Sept. 12, 2013, to note that the agreement calls for guarantees of 60,000 hotel rooms to be filled, not 60,000 hotels. The Advocate regrets the error.