Theater at Jefferson Parish Performance Arts Center will carry name of late state Sen. Ken Hollis

January 15, 2015
After the Jefferson Parish Council voted Wednesday to name the theater at the parish's nearly completed performing arts center in honor of her late husband, state Sen. Ken Hollis' widow said her family was "very grateful" that the efforts of a man who secured millions in funding for the project were being recognized in such a fashion.

"He worked tirelessly to make this happen," Diane Hollis said of her husband, a Metairie Republican who was a state senator for 26 years. "He served the parish ... with passion, with tenaciousness and that's how he got the money."

Councilmen Elton Lagasse and Paul Johnston co-sponsored the resolution to name the 1,050-seat theater inside the Jefferson Parish Performing Arts Center on Airline Drive in Metairie after Hollis. Both men described how Hollis relentlessly lobbied to get an arts center built in Jefferson Parish that would allow arts groups to present shows comparable to those staged in neighboring New Orleans.

Hollis succeeded in getting millions of dollars for the center from the Legislature before term limits forced him out of office in 2007. He died of cancer in 2010 at age 68.

The 86,000-square-foot center was supposed to be ready for performances in 2009 at a cost of $26.6 million. But design problems, legal fights between the parish and its original architect and an audit that raised questions about spending and management of funds delayed the project by six years and more than doubled its cost.

It wasn't until December that Jefferson officials declared the project "substantially complete" at a cost of about $54.5 million, most of which was paid by the state. Councilman Chris Roberts on Wednesday spoke in defense of the cost, saying the initial estimate was far too low.

Work on final touches continues at the center, whose marketing and maintenance will be the responsibility of SMG, which is also the operator of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.

Parish President John Young jokingly called the drawn-out process of getting the center open a "character-building exercise" he was glad to have experienced.

Officials hope it will be ready in time to stage an inaugural production of "Les Miserables" there in the spring, and there also are plans to put "Mary Poppins" on in May. But the center's resident company the nonprofit Jefferson Performing Arts Society has not been able to begin casting.

Nonetheless, those problems were left aside Wednesday as Hollis' family was applauded for his contributions to making the center a reality.

"Thanks to all of you," one of Hollis' sons, Michael, told the council. "We're humbled."

The New Orleans Advocate
By Ramon Antonio Vargas

Photo by John McCusker of The Advocate