Big step forward for fully funded $20M Port Wonder lakefront project

John Guidroz

State and local officials, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, broke ground on the long-awaited $20 million Port Wonder project in Lake Charles Wednesday. The lakefront site will house a new Children’s Museum, as well as a science and nature center administered by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The event is a big step forward for the project since it was first announced in November 2018. Since then, the world was hit with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Southwest Louisiana region endured Hurricane Laura last August and Hurricane Delta last October. Port Wonder’s original groundbreaking, scheduled for last fall, was postponed because of the hurricanes.

A large portion of Port Wonder’s funding came from the 2010 BP Oil Spill settlement. It was fully funded through a public-private partnership that involved multiple agencies. Sasol announced it will contribute $1 million to Port Wonder, the company’s largest single investment in the nation.

“We are so thrilled to be here celebrating the continued commitment and investment of a number of partners who have remained determined to see this project through, no matter the obstacle,” Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said. “There were a lot of evenings where I put my head on the pillow at night and I thought, ‘Man is this project going to fall apart?’ It did not.”

Edwards said Port Wonder will be key in attracting visitors traveling along Interstate 10 and will bring a much-needed economic boost to an area that continues to work toward long-term recovery from last year’s hurricanes.

“If there’s anything we’ve done in the last several months that really speaks to how we’re going to build back better and stronger and build for the future, it’s projects like this,” he said. “We’re going to be with Lake Charles, Calcasieu Parish and Southwest Louisiana throughout this process of recovery and rebuilding.”

Port Wonder will include aquariums, a touch tank, interactive exhibits about Louisiana wildlife and ecology and a fishing pier. Edwards said this project will inform the youth on why coastal restoration and protection is essential.

 

“Educating that next generation here is part of our plan for long-term success,” he said.

Calcasieu Parish Police Jury President Brian Abshire pushed the governor and other elected officials to have “a unified front toward a long-overdue disaster recovery appropriation.” The region has yet to receive such funds on the federal level, more than 10 months after Hurricane Laura’s destructive landfall.

Allyson Montgomery, interim director of the Children’s Museum of Southwest Louisiana, said Port Wonder is a sign of the region’s continued resilience and rebirth since Laura and Delta. The museum has been in the area for more than 30 years.

Along with the Port Wonder groundbreaking, Edwards also joined in a groundbreaking to rebuild the BioLab Inc. plant in Westlake on Wednesday.

Along with Port Wonder, another lakefront development effort, Crying Eagle Brewing’s second location, was first announced in October 2019. It will be built next to Port Wonder.

The second phase of work on the former Harrah’s Casino parking garage, located close to the Port Wonder site, is expected to start in the next 30 days and take two months. Construction on the Port Wonder facility is expected to begin by late 2021 and should take 18 months to complete.

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Mayor Nic Hunter welcomes Gov. John Bel Edwards during the groundbreaking of the Port Wonder Project on the north shore of Lake Charles on Wednesday.

Rick Hickman

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