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Hirsch Coliseum looking for new life - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

Hirsch Coliseum looking for new life

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SHREVEPORT, La -

With its copper roof a green patina, Hirsch Coliseum has been a part of Shreveport's landscape for more than 50 years.

Good times have come and gone for the place. Only a few events are held there a year, but a new chapter will start in its long life starting Nov. 14. That's the day Shreveport-Bossier's new pro-basketball team, the Mavericks, will take the court for its first game. Many hope the team will bring much needed improvements and attention to the old coliseum, which is in desperate need of renovations. Lease incentives, ticket sales and more could supply some dollars to get the coliseum in better condition. But a lot of money is needed. A study claims $10 million dollars are needed to fully renovate the building.

Steve Tucker, the Mavericks' president and head coach, sees a lot of the potential in the place. He hand chose the Hirsch to house the team's home court. Tucker points out one of its most attractive features is seating. Every spectator should feel in the arena.

"There's not a bad seat in the house. There's plenty of tickets to get," Tucker said. "With the different things we're going to be doing in the Hirsch, I think people will enjoy coming back to the Hirsch and enjoy watching professional basketball."

 The coliseum is owned and maintained by the State Fair of Louisiana. While its seating puts spectators in position to see the action, other aspects aren't so great. The seats themselves are old-fashioned, hard and wooden. Most of the bathrooms are in disrepair; several are missing fixtures. The roof, even with wanted historic aesthetics, is a mess of patchwork and constantly leaks. Chris Giordano, the fair's director, says $30,000 to $40,000 a year can be spent repairing the roof. He says the fair simply doesn't have enough money to fix up the Hirsch alone and needs a helping hand.

"The coliseum is a very old building," Giordano said. "There's not a doubt about that. It was built in 1954. It's had some updates over the years, but it is not updated to the point to where it is a modern facility."

A helping hand has arrived with the Mavericks. It has partnered with the fair to finance cosmetic improvements to spruce up the coliseum before the first game. Tucker says the Mavericks are putting up $75,000 for the project. Giordano says initial costs will be covered only by their two parties. Things to be fixed include the Hirsch's bathrooms and locker rooms will be added, as well.

"There's going to be a lot of painting done," Giordano said. "Some new carpet done, painting in the restrooms. The basketball floor, that's owned by the State Fair of Louisiana, is being refinished."

The Mavericks are leasing the Hirsch in a monthly agreement. Monthly payments are set at $10,000. Expenses like utilities and even personnel are also covered by the team. However, there's an incentive for the team's owner, Nelson, to fund more improvements in his lessee contract. The lease payment, says Giordano, will lower when upgrades are made to the coliseum.

"We're awarding them some rent credits for any improvements that they make to the building up to $7,500 a month," Giordano said.

Ticket and concession sales will also help generate cash that could fund improvement projects. The state fair will get a cut of each sale. Giordano says up to 25 home games are scheduled for the coming basketball season. According to Tucker, the Hirsch will not only host basketball games during Nelson's lease but crowd drawing events.

"I know that his commitment is to make sure the Hirsch is a very nice facility where he can put not only pro-basketball events but also concerts," Tucker said. "The different things his company does, which is rodeo, bull riding, monster trucks and those sorts of things."

 Such events prove profitable and popular. The Hirsch recently hosted WWE for a wrestling tournament. Giordano says more than 10,000 came to watch the show. Concessions from the event alone grossed $20,000 for the fair.

Events have been on the decline at the coliseum for decades and no longer provide a substantial funding base. The Hirsch is only routinely used for the state fair, a boat and RV show and sometimes during the Advocare Bowl. Giordano claims the state fair in general isn't on good financial ground, which doesn't leave much cash for the coliseum. He says it cost more than $2 million to hold the state fair. Net revenue is between $600,000 and $700,000 from the event, making it the top grosser.

"It comes from ticket sales at the fair, sponsorships, rentals," Giordano said. "We rent facilities out here throughout the year."

The state fair gets very little public funds overall. According to Giordano, Shreveport Police Department, the Caddo Commission and the Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourism Bureau only grant the fair $40,000 a year. It gets less than $10,000 from the state, which pays for advertisements. Giordano believes the state should give more. The state fair brings in lots of tax revenue, he says, and more could come with the Mavericks and other events on the way. Giordano also points that Hirsch Coliseum's is used during hurricanes.

"We served as an evacuation shelter for Katrina, Gustav, and Ike and other hurricanes," he said. "We try to lend a helping hand when the community calls on us. We really could use a helping hand ourselves."

The fair has approached the state for additional funds that would be used to completely renovate the Hirsch. A study conducted a few years ago found $10 million was needed to complete a project. Giordano says the cash was requested from the capital outlay budget. Representative Roy Burrell has often spearheaded efforts to attract the money for the state fair.

"This money is placed in the budget many times for government's infrastructure improvement," Burrell said, referring to capital outlay funds.

Burrell managed to get $100,000 for the Hirsch. Giordano points out it isn't enough to even start a renovation project. He adds the money hasn't been spent and a request for more will be made this year. Burrell says need for the capital fund is great in Louisiana. That means it's granted on a rate based on priority of cities' needs, including Shreveport.

"Shreveport has a certain amount of needs also," Burrell said. "The state fair would have to be part of that priority. It's based upon what priority it is listed in."

There's also the option to simply tear down Hirsch Coliseum and build a new one in its current place. Giordano says salvaged things, like the copper roof, could bring in lots of money. However, it may not be enough to purchase a new facility. He estimates the cost to be $10 million or more. It seems the Hirsch's only hope for improvements lies with the Mavericks.

 

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