Landrieu praises new center

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 17, 2008

VIDALIA — U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu compared the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center to “a city on a hill” Thursday.

Landrieu was the keynote speaker at the dedication of the convention center, an $8.2 million riverfront facility that was completed earlier this year after 16 years of planning.

“I was very proud as a member of the U.S. Senate to provide some of the first seed money for this complex,” Landrieu said. “Sometimes that early money is the most important money because it lays down a marker that says, ‘I don’t know where the rest of this money is going to come from, but I have faith in this project.’”

Email newsletter signup

River communities across the state are reconnecting with their riverfronts, and Vidalia’s really stands out, she said.

“You have really put yourselves on the map with this facility and this development on the riverfront,” Landrieu said.

Not only does the center benefit the city, but also providing an evacuation center, it benefits the state, she said.

“It helps Louisiana be, if not storm-proof, storm-hardy,” Landrieu said.

The riverfront has drawn nearly $75 million in public and private investment since planning began, Riverfront Administrator H.L. Irvin said.

“In 1992, (Mayor Hyram Copeland) and about a half a handful of people stood up on the levee and below them was a mat field,” Irvin said. “These people envisioned a Vidalia riverfront. There were many times that the answer came up ‘no,’ but as you can see, that answer did not prevail.”

U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander likened the building of the convention center to the film “Field of Dreams.”

“You know that scene where they whisper, ‘If you build it, they will come?’” Alexander said. “Hyram Copeland said ‘Give me the money, and I will build it.’”

And Alexander said he liked the finished product.

“It may be one of the prettiest sights in Louisiana when you come over the bridge in the evening,” he said.

Copeland thanked the state and federal legislative delegations for finding ways to help the city fund the project, and he also thanked the people of Vidalia for standing behind the project.

“Without them, none of this would have happened,” Copeland said.

He also extended thanks to former mayors Sidney Murray and Sam Randazzo, as well as local leaders Fred Falkenheiner and Logan Sewell.

“They were the people who worked extremely hard on this project as well,” Copeland said.

Since the first phase of the center opened in August 2007, it has hosted more than 150 events, and more than 20,000 people have attended events at it, Irvin said.