Burton Coliseum, shown here before the recent Southwest Louisiana District Livestock Show & Rodeo, will next month host the Top 28 boys and girls state basketball championships. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 1:41 PM
Burton Coliseum is getting a makeover and a chance to shine again.
The arena is midway through a yearlong set of renovations that are enhancing the exterior and interior of the building. Next month, it will welcome thousands of visitors for the Top 28 boys and girls state basketball tournaments.
The facility has been managed by the Calcasieu Parish Police Jury since last June. Parish Administrator Bryan Beam said the goal of the renovations is to improve the facility’s ability to host major events.
“The renovations are comprehensive — external with the roof and siding and internal with new lighting, new electrical system and fire suppression,” he said. “In addition to that, looking ahead, we want to make some sound improvements that will allow more opportunities for concerts. It will take more time over the next couple years to implement these as funds become available for the main things such as better lighting, better sound, better visuals in the building. The entire look has changed, it is brighter, more colorful and cleaner. That is all geared to hosting more and larger events. We have the basketball finals coming up. When you get those kind of events, there is an expectation that the facility will be well-maintained and attractive, that the experience is enjoyable. From the time we have people driving to the
complex to their entry into the arena and their seat, we want that to be a good experience. That is the bigger picture we have been working on and will continue to work on. The goal is to continue the good history we have had with things like the livestock show and rodeo, McNeese basketball and the garden show, but also to go after other events that appeal to the community.”
General manager Jason Barnes hopes to bring new events to the facility.
“We are trying to get more programming in a wide variety of different types of events,” he said. “This complex sits on about 50 acres, with three facilities — the coliseum, the arena and the event barn. That gives us the opportunity to do a lot of programming, to think out of the box. We look forward to growing and getting more progressive. We would like to bring in concerts again. We have talked about trying to get circuses, bringing in more sporting events like the basketball championships. We would love to host more tournaments. The sky is the limit. If it is something that is attractive and a benefit to the community, we will go after it.”
Barnes said the renovations are making the coliseum an attractive destination.
“Burton Coliseum, when it opened, was very unique and stood out in the state and region,” he said. “It was the only indoor, air-conditioned coliseum between Houston and New Orleans. The American Press called it the Lake Charles Superdome. It was a gem for Southwest Louisiana. Over the years it has gotten older, there has been some attention needed. With the Police Jury coming in doing these improvements, we are trying to get it to be a gem once again, trying to get the community to take notice and participate in some of the events that go on out here.”
Recent visitors have noticed improvements.
“The entire concourse area is being updated as well with new paint, new lighting,” Barnes said. “It is a continual project. We have had the restrooms and concession stands upgraded in 2012. The ticket booths are being upgraded. I hope we are close to done by early summer. A couple of years ago, when upgrades were made, it was exciting to see people’s reactions when they saw what was done. I am looking forward to having these big events that are coming up, having people see our new look. When we did the rodeo, it was cool to see the fans come in and see the new lighting. It is much brighter than the old lights.”
Barnes said the facility plays a big role in the community.
“I think people would be surprised to know that we have about 200 events at the facility annually,” Barnes said. “Most people think of it as just being a rodeo or basketball arena. We have a lot of other-type events. We have a partnership with the LSU Agriculture Center. They do a lot of ag-related events, a variety of things. We host a lot of events already and would like to do more.”
Barnes said he hopes the area supports the upcoming basketball tournaments as well as it has other high school championships in the area, such as the softball tournament that has been held in Sulphur for 13 years.
“It is great to be able to host both the boys and girls Top 28 in one location. It is a huge economic impact for the community, and is a big event for this community to enjoy,” he said. “For several years we have had other state tournaments in various other locations in Southwest Louisiana that our community turns out it in numbers for. We hope that is going to be the case in March. We hope that we give a stellar performance and hope that it is something we can continue for a long time. An event of this magnitude takes a communitywide effort, it takes many agencies and many partners to help make it work. We work closely with the convention and visitors bureau. We need a team of volunteers. Our part-time staff is a crucial element in making this work. We want to give good customer service and create good experiences for the visitors that come. We have worked well with many agencies in the past. We know we are going to have challenges this time since we have never hosted before, but we really hope to fine-tune everything to where we can have a good, successful event for both tournaments.”
Successful tournaments could help attract other events.
“We are hopeful that the quality of work we provide with our team of guest service members will spread across the state and draw some interest for other things,” Barnes said. “We hope we will draw new business and opportunities. We do have other things that people have called about that we are looking into and researching. There are things that we are investigating that could be good opportunities. We hope to do a strategic planning effort this year to set goals. We are aiming high.”
Barnes said excitement has been building over the past few years.
“I think it first started when we did the Josh Ledet concert (an event that drew 7,900 fans in May 2012),” he said. “It has been gaining more and more momentum. All of us that work here are optimistic about the future.”