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|Vidalia center named in honor of Hammett|
Grand opening ceremonies were held Thursday for Vidalia's new conference and convention center which was named in honor former Rep. Bryant Hammett, who served as chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.
Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland announced at the end of the program that the center would be named the Bryant O. Hammett Conference and Convention Center.
"I am surprised and humbled," Hammett said. "And I am very proud and pleased to have been a part of this project."
In 2004, the Louisiana Legislature passed House Bill 1454 "to authorize the municipal governing authority in certain municipalities to name a welcoming center in honor of a legislator."
The convention center is an $8.2 million riverfront facility that was completed earlier this year after 16 years of planning.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu was the guest speaker at the event. Also on hand were U.S. Rep. Rodney Alexander, state representatives Andy Anders and Neil Riser, USDA's Clyde Holloway, Winnfield Mayor Deano Thornton, former Natchitoches Mayor Joe Sampite', El Camino Real Executive Director Mike Tinnerello of Winnfield, Ferriday Mayor Glen McGlothin, Clayton Mayor Rydell Turner, Natchez Mayor Jake Middleton, former Natchez Mayor Tony Byrne and former Ferriday Mayor Gene Allen.
"I am proud to be standing up here and to see all this support from other mayors for Mayor Copeland, who has been a visionary for this community," said Landrieu. "This whole project come about because of strong leadership. Rodney and I worked very well together on this project."
Landrieu recalled the number of times she traveled from Baton Rouge to Monroe.
"We stopped once on the Natchez bluffs and thought what a beautiful sight Vidalia was from that side," she said. "I am very proud to have helped get some of the first seed money for this complex."
Landrieu told the gathering that her father, former New Orleans Mayor Maurice Edwin "Moon" Landrieu, eliminated a concrete wall between the French Quarter and the Mississippi River.
"He had an idea to connect downtown to the river," Landrieu said. "He set a ladder against that big wall and watched a line of people for blocks go up one at a time to look at the river. He then went to Europe and looked at some Spanish steps which gave him an idea for the riverfront."
Moon Landrieu's tourism-related projects included the Moon Walk, a riverfront promenade facing the French Quarter, the Superdome, and renovations of the French Market and Jackson Square.
"When Mayor Copeland brought up this site I thought it would be wonderful and would help this community connect to the river," Landrieu said. "This riverfront is a true asset to this community and to the state."
Landrieu was particularly pleased with the new addition being available for use as a Red Cross shelter.
"People need a place to flee to higher ground," she said. "It helps Louisiana be, if not storm-proof, storm-hardy."
Landrieu also mentioned her plans to assist Ferriday with its water plant problems, assist the parish with agricultural economic problems and help complete the El Camino Real project through Louisiana.
Alexander asked the audience if they remembered a Kevin Costner film called "Field of Dreams."
"You know that scene where they whisper, 'If you build it, they will come?'" Alexander whispered to tthe crowd. "Hyram Copeland said 'Give me the money, and I will build it.'"
Alexander asked the crowd if they knew the difference between a pit bull and Copeland.
"The bulldog eventually lets go," Alexander said of Copeland's perseverance on the project. "Mayor Copeland will not. And this is living proof that persistence pays off."
Alexander said he knew there were people from Natchez at the event, but asked people to "go to Natchez, come back and see how pretty the riverfront is," referring to the center. "It may be one of the prettiest sights in Louisiana when you come over the bridge in the evening," he said.
Holloway was a major player in Vidalia getting a $1.7 million grant from the USDA.
"Grant money is hard to come by," Holloway said. "We want to keep rural areas as better places to live."
Copeland thanked the state and federal legislative delegations for finding ways to help the city fund the project, and he also thanked the people of Vidalia for standing behind the project.
"Without them, none of this would have happened," Copeland said. He also extended thanks to former mayors Sidney Murray and Sam Randazzo, as well as local leaders, including the late Fred Falkenheiner and the late Logan Sewell.
"They were the people who worked extremely hard on this project," Copeland said.
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