Last Modified: Saturday, October 31, 2015 10:10 AMThe Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau announced Thursday that it will donate $1 million over a four-year period to the National Hurricane Museum and Science Center.
Shelley Johnson, the bureau’s executive director, said the center is considered a “major tourism generator of national scope.” She said the donation comes from a 4 percent occupancy tax on hotels.
“We felt the Convention and Visitors Bureau needed to be a part of this as they get to final fundraising levels,” Johnson said. “With its location so close to Interstate 10 and right on the lakefront, it’s going to be a world-class attraction.”
Willie Mount, one of the center’s board members, said the donation boosts the amount pledged or raised for the project to $44 million. The museum has a $57 million price tag.
“We’re in the final stretch of our capital campaign,” Mount said. “The contribution shows the real interest and support from the community leaders on the (bureau’s) board.”
Mount said the contribution will hopefully inspire others to donate to the hurricane museum.
“It’s going to be a wonderful opportunity for Southwest Louisiana, the state and the nation,” she said. “It will reach families, schools and the community. It’s one of the most exciting projects I’ve worked on.”
Angie Manning, bureau communications director, said that prior to the museum, the idea was to create a Hurricane Audrey memorial museum. The project was a partnership between the tourism bureau and the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road.
Johnson said a grant was written in 2002 to use Federal Highway Administration funding to help develop the museum. But after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall in 2005, followed by Hurricane Ike in 2008, the concept grew.
“Those storms just made things seem more national in scope, and we could fold the Audrey story into that,” she said.
Johnson said the bureau was awarded a grant worth just over $1.4 million as part of the National Scenic Byways Program. After that, a board of directors was formed for the current project.
The facility could break ground by late 2016 and open by the end of 2018, according to Mount.
The center’s website says the museum could attract 220,000 visitors each year and provide Southwest Louisiana with a $55 million annual economic impact.