A 25-year old Love Civic Center, 2025 S. Collegiate Drive, will receive a $1.5 million renovation later this year after Paris voters approved a 2-cent increase to the city’s Hotel Occupancy Tax in a May 4 election.
The city tax increase, from 7% to 9%, puts the total Hotel Occupancy Tax rate at 15%, which includes the state’s 6%. Revenues from the increase can only be used for civic center renovation and are expected to pay off a $1.5 million debt in 10 years.
The hub of social and other activities, Love Civic Center draws thousands of visitors to Lamar County each year to attend conventions and competitions promoted by the Chamber of Commerce, its Visitors and Convention Council, the city of Paris and numerous organizations. More than 35,000 people used the center in 2018 with 15 events taking place that brought in people from out of town.
Plans call for a state-of-the-art audio and visual system, an HVAC contingency plan, a complete refurbishing of restrooms, new or refinished flooring throughout, and an upgrade to lighting both inside and out.
“We want it to be attractive at night when many events happen,” said renovation project contractor Brad Archer, of Archer Construction and Design. “Right now the brightest thing you see are the lights on the ATM machine.”
Although the facility built in 1994 is structurally sound, it lacks amenities and a modern look people expect from a convention center, Archer said,
“When you drive up, it will be a ‘wow’ factor; when you go inside, it will be a ‘wow’ factor,” Chamber President Paul Allen said of anticipated results. “Right now you don’t have that, and in the business of attracting conventions, the ‘wow’ factor means a lot.”
In addition to outside lighting, more security cameras will be installed. Inside, security gates will be added so people attending outside events will have access to restrooms inside the center, something not available now.
Plans call for a complete renovation of restrooms with an end result something akin to upscale hotels, Archer said. Tile floors in corridors and a concrete floor in the main hall are likely to be replaced with luxury vinyl, marketed for its durability and ease of maintenance.
The proposed renovation and increase in the hotel tax gained the support of most Paris hotel owners although several expressed concern about tourists staying instead in nearby Mount Pleasant, Greenville or Bonham, where the tax is 13%.
“We are in support because it is a direct reflection on increasing the integrity and business of our town,” Hampton Inn and Days Inn owner Mihir Panka said, describing potential revenue from tourists who attend civic center events.
“That 2-cent increase will benefit us all,” Pankaj said. “That’s revenue for the city, for hotels, restaurants ... and an opportunity to gain more business and to grow this city to its full potential.”
Civic Center history
When word came of a $350,000 donation from Malone Hughes Love, a former resident who had been gone from Lamar County for 50 years, the building of Love Civic Center came to fruition, according to The Paris News files.
The widow of J.A. Love, a Lamar County native and 1928 graduate of Paris High School, Mrs. Love said she had read in The Paris News about a fund drive to build the center, and when Felix Gibson, her third-grade classmate at West Paris Elementary School, sent her a letter, she decided to help. Her donation pushed the fund drive over a $750,000 goal raised with more than 1,000 local contributions.
With funds from the drive, a $1.5 million federal grant, and funds raised since 1985 when the city implemented a Hotel Occupancy Tax, the civic center was debt free when it was completed in July 1994.
A groundbreaking ceremony took place May 2, 1993. Former Lamar National Bank President Mike Rhoades, who served as chairman of the civic center advisory committee, served as master of ceremonies. Those participating in the groundbreaking included Mrs. Love, Paris Mayor George Fisher, Greater Paris Development Foundation Chairman Ed Ellis, Chamber President Roy Sparks, construction manager Chip Harper, architect David Denney, center governing board chairman Dr. Jim Brunette and leader of the local fund raising effort, Felix Gibson.