The Cajundome celebrates 30

by Cherry Fisher May

The Cajundome celebrated its big three-oh this week with an invitation-only luncheon of VIPs and staff that felt like old home week. Clearly joyful, Cajundome Executive Director Greg Davis, who has held that post since groundbreaking, hosted the program, including a panel discussion among four key players in birthing the project: former Gov. Edwin Edwards, former Mayor Dud Lastrapes, former UL President Ray Authement and attorney Bill Broadhurst, who served as the first chairman of The Cajundome Commission. It’s the structure of that commission that Davis credits with the Dome’s success, which includes representation from the city, university and community.

“The structure allowed us to run this facility based on performance, not politics, and Dr. Authement’s decision to serve personally as university president was key,” noted Davis, who also fondly remembered early board member Mario Mamalakis as a guardian at the gate against political meddling.

From left: former Gov. Edwin Edwards, former Lafayette Mayor Dud Lastrapes, former UL President Ray Authement and attorney Bill Broadhurst

Davis recounted milestones in the 30-year history of the facility. “We had an architect [Neil Nehrbass] who had never designed an arena and a structural engineer [Billy Mouton] who had never designed a dome,” remembered Davis. But their designs have sustained the multi-purpose venue, even meeting the new scaled-up standards of the giant production demands of 21st century mega-artists. “Those entertainers are amazed when they come here and see what we can do in this building,” he said.

Davis clicked off a list of local business leaders and local promoters who put up their own money to sustain event production at the Dome during the downturn of the ’80s.

“The Eagles concert is a good example,” Davis said. “National promoters wouldn’t take a chance on Lafayette, especially not on a $75 ticket. Local people made that happen and we sold 7,000 tickets in the first 30 minutes. That put Lafayette on the map.” Other early turning points include the decision to bring ice hockey and soccer to the Dome, as well as winning away from New Orleans the state’s Top 28 high school basketball tourney. “And we’re gonna get that back,” he pledged.

But among all the great stories, the hurricanes Katrina-Rita chapter was a clear stand out.

“We were home to 18,500 refugees from two different hurricanes,” Davis recalled. “This community came together in an amazing way. And our staff was incredible.”

The entire staff was invited as guests for the luncheon and Davis recognized an impressive number of them who have been part of the Dome family for 23 years or more. He also announced the retirement of Business Director Giselle Cormier, the first Dome employee to retire with 30 years of service.

Replacement value for the facility, which cost $65 million to build in 1985, would be $180 million today. The Cajundome has hosted 4,777 events and 16.7 million people in its history, reflecting an economic impact of $775 million dollars and generating $219 million in tax benefits, according to a recent study. The Lafayette icon will be shuttered from the end of May to the end of November in 2016 for a $20 million upgrade.

For more on the history and future of the Dome, read The Independent’s special report and see a photo gallery here.