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Plans for the National Hurricane Museum & Science Center, to be located on the city’s lakefront, include a center for  understanding hurricanes and wetlands and investigating their scientific and ecological impact. (Special to the American Press

Plans for the National Hurricane Museum & Science Center, to be located on the city’s lakefront, include a center for  understanding hurricanes and wetlands and investigating their scientific and ecological impact. (Special to the American Press


Hurricane museum not just dream

Last Modified: Monday, June 30, 2014 5:02 PM

By Jim Beam/American Press

“A national hurricane museum in Lake Charles? Come on, you gotta be kidding! Somebody must be dreaming.”

Comments like those were heard when it was announced an effort would be launched to locate a $68 million hurricane museum on the Lake Charles lakefront. Well, no one is laughing now. Committed funding already totals $36 million, according to Gray Stream, who heads the museum’s board of directors.

Stream talked about the $65 billion in economic development projects planned for Southwest Louisiana giving the National Hurricane Museum and Science Center the impetus it needed.

Skepticism about something this visionary is expected, he said. It isn’t unusual, he said, for local doubters to be asking, “Are we deserving of that sort of ambition?”

The time has definitely come to be ambitious, Stream said. He talked about the ability of everyone to make a contribution — both large and small — to the effort. He mentioned commitments of $3 million from the Port of Lake Charles, $4.8 million from the city, $28 million in state capital outlay funding and smaller contributions of $10,000, $75,000, $100,000 and $200,000.

Cheniere Energy officials announced at a reception last week the company is making a $200,000 donation. Rick Richard, who has brought historic structures in the city back to life as functioning facilities, sent word he will make a $100,000 contribution.

“Everyone of those dollars is important,” Stream said in the earlier interview. He added that donors can say, “I didn’t make a $3 million commitment, I made a $70 million commitment. I didn’t make $3 million happen, I made $70 million happen.’ ”

The 68,000-square-foot structure will include an auditorium, learning center, gallery and electronic classrooms. See the full scope of the project at www.NHMSC.com. It is estimated the complex could attract more than 200,000 visitors per year and boost the local economy by more than $60 million annually.

A major goal is to create a world-class center to better understand hurricanes in order to help prepare people to survive and recover from the violent storms. U.S. hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Dennis, Emily and Wilma in 2005 killed 3,913 people and caused over $159 billion in property damage.

Citizens who serve on the museum board of directors said they believe people don’t have to tolerate those numbers. They are Stream, Sammie Faulk, Mark McMurry, Dennis Stine, Fran Morgan Sanchez, Claude Leach, Willie Landry Mount, Dan Gilbane, Michael Olivier and Paul Rainwater. Donald “Boysie” Bollinger of the shipyard company and Richard Zuschlag of Acadian Companies make up the national advisory board. 

An interactive learning center at the museum will partner with weather scientists, technologists, universities and national and regional service agencies to educate the public, first responders, contractors, home builders, families and students on how to predict, prepare, survive and recover from intense hurricanes.

Visitors will get hands-on experience. One brochure said, “They will be able to enjoy an immersive ride on a simulated ‘hurricane hunter’ flight that can accommodate 15-30 people at a time. They will feel as though they are at the controls in the cockpit and heading right into the eye of a storm. Seats will move, shake and rock and roll as the hurricane imagery flies by.”

The community-minded individuals steering this major development remind us of a similar undertaking by like-minded visionaries in the early 1920s in Lake Charles. They envisioned a deep water port as the ticket to economic prosperity and saw the project to fruition.

On Feb. 20, 1920, Guy Beatty was president of the Association of Commerce. He opened a deep water meeting on Feb. 10, 1920, with the following comments:

“The Association of Commerce in planning their work for 1920 believe they are entering one of the most important years in the history of Lake Charles.

“While a number of smaller projects will be undertaken by the association during the year, it has been determined to make a campaign for a 30-foot channel to deep water the principal effort of the association of the year.

“During the past few months it has appeared practical to secure such a channel and considerable preliminary work has been done by our executive committee in devising ways and means to proceed to secure the consummation of this enterprise.

“So much confidence is felt in our ability to accomplish our purpose that the association has determined to devote its full force to this great enterprise, which is unquestionably the greatest undertaking ever assumed by our city, and the success, we feel, will assure the future of Lake Charles and a population of 50,000 in the next 10 years without question.”

A gigantic celebration took place on Nov. 30, 1926, when the Port of Lake Charles officially opened. As the saying goes, “The rest is history.” And it should be noted that the Port of Lake Charles has played the key role in helping attract the $65 billion in economic development coming to this area.

Stream said the job isn’t done. He said, “The only way all those (committed) funds trigger is if we close that gap and get the second half of this project funded through regional industry, the private sector and individuals. That’s what we’re totally focused on for the next year and a half.”

Each of us can participate just as those city pioneers did so long ago. Our contributions and support can help make the National Hurricane Museum and Science Center become a reality. The project is within our grasp. 

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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com.

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