Officials hope to return River Center arena to operator by the end of this week

Downtown Baton Rouge (Photo courtesy of iStock Photo)

As more than 800 area flood victims settle into their third week of shelter at the Baton Rouge River Center, state officials say they hope to be able to return the River Center arena—though not the exhibition hall—back to its operator, SMG, by the end of the week.

Currently, the River Center has 825 evacuees—including 147 children and 46 teens—housed in both the arena and exhibition hall. But Terri Ricks, deputy secretary for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, says as the shelter’s census continues to decrease, the plan is to consolidate evacuees into the exhibition hall.

“We certainly have no intention of keeping the River Center open longer than the River Center wants to be kept open,” Ricks says. “We don’t want to overstay our welcome.”

Ricks says the consolidation into the exhibition hall could happen as soon as later this week.

River Center General Manager Michael Day says while that would be welcome news he doesn’t expect the transfer will happen that soon. The River Center now serves as the only shelter in Baton Rouge, and over the weekend evacuees from Celtic Media Centre and a special needs shelter at LSU were consolidated into the River Center.

“It’s a matter of tracking the numbers,” Day says. “As soon as we can put everyone in the exhibition hall we will do that, but from the looks of things I don’t think we are too close to that happening.”

Multiagency teams of disaster case managers from the Red Cross—which is operating the shelter—the state, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Catholic Charities and other organizations have been working with residents of the shelter to help them find transitional housing. It’s a slow process, and while case managers are making progress there is still a long way to go, Ricks says.

Eventually, those sheltering at the River Center who cannot find other housing will be transferred to a smaller facility, though Ricks cannot say at what point that will happen.

“I think what you’ll find is we might have a population that needs some longer-term sheltering for a few weeks longer than maybe most people and then we will find a more suitable facility for them,” she says. “We’re not going to keep the River Center open for 100 people.”

In the meantime, the River Center has cancelled all events that were scheduled for September. Day cannot say how much the facility has lost in revenue from the cancelled events, which include a concert, dances and a food show. But he is quite certain SMG will not be adequately reimbursed for its losses by FEMA or any other governmental agency.

“I can tell you from personal experience the gap of what is being offered by FEMA and the actual loss is significant,” says Day, whose home was also damaged in the flood. “I’m sure we will try at some point to recoup some of the losses but I’m not expecting much.”

Day says the arena should be available by the Oct. 5 Elton John concert, which is sold out.

“The plan is to have the arena back by Elton John,” he says. “It is our intention not to cancel any more events if we can help it.”

—Stephanie Riegel

There are no comments. Click to add your thoughts!