Burton set to host state championships

By By Warren Arceneaux / American Press

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.”