Lafourche moving on with tourism initiatives

Dave’s Picks: Smooth, Rough and Beautiful
November 15, 2011
Ronald McGee
November 17, 2011
Dave’s Picks: Smooth, Rough and Beautiful
November 15, 2011
Ronald McGee
November 17, 2011

With an influx of tourism dollars signed over by BP after last year’s oil spill and a long-awaited project near completion, Lafourche Parish’s effort to revitalize tourism is reaching a crescendo.

One of the brightest steps the parish has taken recently is the purchase of advertising space on “hyperscreens,” or nine-foot tall quasi-iPads, which will be unveiled at 16 welcome centers across the state and the Ernest Morial Convention Center in New Orleans.

Lafourche Parish paid $35,000 out of its $2.16 million tourism fund for two years worth of banner ads on the interactive board. Parish Administrator Crystal Chiasson said the space purchased, which came with a non-compete provision for other parishes’ tourism ads, is a special opportunity for the parish.

“It’s going to be great for Lafourche Parish to say we’re the first one to do this,” Chiasson said. “We don’t want other parishes advertising on there. We’re going to reserve that right for a while. … (The price is low), basically because we tapped into the market. They need to get their product here and we need to get Lafourche Parish in.”

Alabama natives, who relocated to Louisiana and incorporated as Louisiana Interactive Technologies, LLC, designed the advertising board and its program application, which features capabilities similar to Apple “swipe” applications.

“It’s a decision place, not a point of purchase, you can’t buy anything or make a reservation,” Skip Krause, executive vice president of LIT said. “This is the cheapest advertisement you can find with the visibility; plus with the interactivity you’ve got, that blows people away.”

The entrepreneurial venture is receiving support from the South Louisiana Economic Council, state Rep. Joe Harrison and Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne.

Advertisers, ranging from community stores to internationally franchised restaurants, can purchase space and upload coupons, menu items and maps that can then be transmitted to a user’s cell phone.

“This is pamphlets on a screen,” Chiasson said. “It’s technology, it’s advancement.”

Lafourche’s ad will include the parish’s “Dig In!” campaign and will allow access to a calendar of upcoming events.

The first screen will be unveiled at the Interstate 10 Westbound Slidell Welcome Center near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line, and the remainder will be located at high-traffic locations throughout the state.

Parish hopes to open Central Market by summer

Parish leaders also hope to open by next summer the long-planned Central Market in Raceland. The 60-feet-by-120-feet open-air pavilion is in the process of being bid out to a contractor, and it is expected to include a community freezer, a stage for musical acts and could come with a parking lot, Chiasson said.

The pavilion would offer a concentration of parish culture woven into handmade crafts, the smell of fresh seafood and produce and in the eyes of the men and women of the region who had peddled their offerings on roadsides. If successful, it would simultaneously act as a haven for sellers and a portrait of the parish, trying to entice tourists into the heart of Lafourche while blue-collar salesmen conduct their business.

Unlike the hyperscreen ads, a more impromptu initiative paid for with BP’s allocation, the pavilion has been in the works since 2007 and is funded primarily with money secured through Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Julie Barrilleaux, a special projects coordinator with LPG, is overseeing the planning of Central Market. She said she aspires to make the pavilion more than just a spot for sales.

“We’re trying to make it a social gathering; not just where you come, buy your three potatoes and off you go,” Barrilleaux said. “We want them to come and sit, and maybe somebody has cooked food or they can listen to music.”

A lot of the finer details are still being worked out. Planners have yet to reach out to parish vendors, a process Chiasson said should begin in the first quarter of next year. Barrilleaux said she’s still considering a fee schedule through consultation with other farmer’s market hosts (though she says it should be “nominal”). And the limitations on what can be sold where is still unknown, though it is expected that crafts and seafood will be sold under the same roof in separate quadrants.

“I’ve been to a few markets, and they’re all different,” Barrilleaux said. “You can see the difference in the atmosphere as to what’s being sold.”

The parish is also building personalized websites for all of its charter fishermen. In conjunction with Plaquemines Parish, Lafourche hosted an event for New Orleans hotel concierges and convention planners at the Acme Oyster House last week. The BP money is flowing.

“Through the BP tourism dollars, we have dollars and we can move and get things done quick,” Chiasson said. “The Central Market project, that was state dollars coming down and you’ve got to jump through the hoops with the fire on them. It takes a long time to get those things done, but when we have the money, we can move on projects.”