GONZALES, LA (WAFB) - The City of Gonzales could be on the brink of getting a new conference center. The mayor is asking voters to approve a 2 percent hotel sales tax to pay for it, but one local group claims it’s bad for business.
Renderings of what would be the new Gonzales Conference Center feature an entertainment hall with indoor and outdoor live music venue opportunities that Mayor Barney Arceneaux says would draw popular bands and crowds. “We are between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and geographically speaking, we think we are in a hotbed. We thought it would be good to bring in the mid-level conferences, maybe concerts. We know the local dance recital folks are interested. They have talked to us many times,” Arceneaux said.
The mayor says a 2 percent sales tax on local hotels would raise around $500,000 per year to cover the cost. But some local hotel groups, such as Ascension Lodging, have launched a campaign against the proposal. They sent out postcards explaining reasons they believe the sales tax is bad. It includes warnings like “the sales tax is forever” and that it will “raise the rate to one of the highest in the region, which will driver customers away."
Prashant Patel with the Asian American Hotel Owners Association says 80 percent of the hotel guests are from the petro-chemical industry. He says to keep those customers, hotel owners would have to eat the cost. “We would have to lower our rates to make sure we meet the needs of our guests. When these events are being held, they [planners] shop around for how much they are going to be charged for occupancy tax, room rates, and availability, so these planners try to look for places budgeted for people coming in as well. They are going to look at the 2 percent added tax, and eventually it does hurt the hotels and restaurants,” Patel said.
The postcard also tells voters the $500,000 might not be enough to pay the bills and they could get stuck paying for it. Mayor Arceneaux says that’s not true. “We had to go to the legislature and get it passed. We had to go to the bond commission and get it passed. All these folks thought it was a good idea or they never would have given us the green light,” Arceneaux said.
The mayor says the lodging group is picking a fight because the city beat them to the idea. “I think the real reason is the 2 percent that they wanted that they did not jump on soon enough after we put the word out that we were doing to go after it,” Arceneaux said.
Patel admits he’s not against the extra revenue, but the lodging group has other places they would like to see the money go. “More towards advertising, marketing for the city to bring in more business. The expo center has many options available. That can be used more,” Patel said.
Voters will decide on December 8 if that 2 percent will go towards a new conference center. If the tax passes, Mayor Arceneaux says he hopes to have the conference center open by 2020. He says it would be built somewhere between Highway 30, 44, and I-10.