The meeting was called to discuss possible litigation against the city by the youth group when the city began discussions to evict A. A. Comeaux Youth from the building in the park. By the end of the meeting, the city and A. A. Comeaux Youth, represented by Tommy Picard, came to an agreement for the youth league corporation to act as a third party provider for the city to organize and maintain operations of the park and all sports.
Abbeville Mayor Mark Piazza said that “the new contract allows the city to collect the revenue of the building rental with the intent to put the same money back into the parks and recreation funds. It also allows the youth group to continue housing their offices at the park at no charge, but they will be expected to pay for their own utilities and phone expenses. It helps on security matters as well.”
When the mayor was asked if the city would provide working space for any other organizations at no charge, he replied, “In lieu of rent, his presence in the park and maintaining the facilities, the city council is comfortable in not charging him. The city has always paid for expenses to repairs to the park (when areas are vandalized). He’s (Tommy Picard) going to oversee the building for the rental section and will be responsible for making sure it’s secure after a function.”
“In the contract,” continued Piazza, “the city took out the requirement for the youth group to pay for the building insurance, but they will continue to provide their own liability insurance. The city also took out the position of limiting who the youth league can hire to work for them. He’ll be able to hire whomever he wants. Tommy will not be paid by the city; any money he or A. A. Comeaux Youth makes will come from selling concessions at the park.
“In the end, the city has gained a recreation provider that we’ve been wrestling with for some time now as to whether or not we were going to hire someone to operate it in the Parks Department or set up this third party provider. He’ll be expected, in the contract, to provide sports for the entire year including baseball, tennis, basketball, soccer and football. The programs will be open to all children ages 5-18 years of age and the charters of the sports programs will provide for all the specifics on regulations and requirements for that sport,” commented Piazza.
The history of the building at the park seems to have a rags to riches story. Charlie Beckett talked about when he first bought his house across the street from the park and that he used to play basketball games in the gym on weekends.
Picard said that “the Police Jury gave the building to Rodney Simon in 1980 and he worked out a deal to get the Boys and Girls Club in the building. He (Simon) then got a loan and grant to fix the roof and windows and the sheriff renovated the rec side. The Boys and Girls Club couldn’t renovate and operate the rec side because they couldn’t serve alcohol, so they approached one of our board members 1995. At that time, we didn’t have any place to have our meetings.”
Picard continued, “I was against it because of what’s happening now. We (A.A. Comeaux Youth) met with their attorney, Woody Woodruff, three times. We agreed to a lease plan of $3,000 a year for that side, which equals 10 rentals at $300 a piece. Then we approached Hibernia Bank about a loan. They gave us a loan of $65,000 with no collateral. That speaks highly of our organization. The building wasn’t ours; we didn’t own the land. They gave it because of our name,” Picard stated.
“We paid the Boys and Girls Club $3,000 for two to three years and come to find out that $3,000 was going for liability insurance and they had liability, the Police jury had liability and we had liability and figured they’re wasting money. They cancelled the policy and we quit paying; we were just paying the interest on the loan. About 8-9 years ago, we started paying $1,047 out of our bingo account and finally paid off the note about a year ago.”
“Then they approached us about being in the building illegally. We’ve been in the building 12 years. We went to the Police Jury and got the okay to go into a sublease with the Boys and Girls club; that vote was 8-6, signed the sublease, paid them for three years, paid our note off, the building looks like it did from day one and they say we’re making tons of money. If we rent the building four times a month for $350, it equals $1,400 if it rents all the time. Our note was $1,047 a month, property insurance was about $200 month, electricity $300-$400 a month and upkeep; we’re not making money. Without bingo, we couldn’t have paid the loan.
“One of the councilmen told me we were making too much money. It’s because they don’t understand the concept of a nonprofit organization. We even offered to them to take all the rentals; we just want to run the building. I think they want us out of the park. I’m 56 years old. I’m not fighting this anymore. Since 1983 we did 47 major events in the city that has brought in an estimated $35 million. We’ve put some $2 million back into the park renovations, the building and all the fields have been built by us.
Rob Roy said that the members of the parks and rec board were approached to sign a contract. “It was explained to us that this was to begin negotiations with the youth group. We were also told that if we didn’t sign the contract by last Friday, we would be evicted from the building,” Roy said. “The Park and Recreation Department were misled by telling us we were beginning negotiations, and then the city sent us a letter saying that if the contract was not signed, we would be evicted.”
Councilman Francis Plaisance reported after the executive session that the City of Abbeville will now collect the revenue for the rental of the building at Comeaux Park.
Councilman Carlton Campbell heads the Parks and Recreation Board for the city and reported that “the Mayor’s office will set the amount of rent and designate someone to handle scheduling and that any money received would be put back into the recreation budget. But there will no longer be any free rental for anybody. Vermilion Youth is going to continue to provide the all the recreation activities for the city. The city’s already cutting the grass at the park. A.A. Comeaux Youth will continue to upkeep the inside of the parks.”