Mark Anderson is converting a former FEMA trailer park in Convent, La., into the Sugar Hill RV Resort.
A recreational vehicle resort that was originally aimed at luring RV enthusiasts along the Mississippi River midway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge is instead providing much-needed housing to industrial workers in the river parishes, according to The Times-Picayune, New Orleans.
“I saw an opportunity to create a resort for the snowbirds, the travelers from up north, who want to get away from the cold and who want to travel with all the amenities of home,” Anderson said.
But since opening, most of the park’s business has involved housing people working in the river parishes. In addition to the employees who keep local refineries and plants running on a daily basis, the Marathon refinery in Garyville is amid a major expansion that has brought an influx of construction workers.
“In St. James we have a housing shortage: no apartments or houses to rent,” St. James Parish President Dale Hymel Jr. said. “The big drive is the Marathon (refinery) construction, and the workers are looking for someplace to stay.”
And if Nucor Corp. proceeds with construction of a proposed steel plant in Convent, the number of construction workers in the area will climb even higher.
“There is certainly a need for more trailer sites. If the new steel plant is built, we’ll need five times more spaces for construction workers than what Sugar Hill offers,” former St. James Parish President Paul Keller said.
“This area desperately needed a place to park motorhomes,” said Kathy Hotard, who interacts with many of the workers coming to the area through her role as an information officer at the St. James Welcome Center in Gramercy.
Jennifer and Jake Sweet are among those using the Sugar Hill RV Resort as a home away from home while Jake is working in St. Charles Parish. The Sweets; Jake’s mother, Virginia Slater; and friends Hannah Smith and Aaron Spence rent three spaces at the park.
“We’ll be here until they come home and say, ‘Let’s go,’” Smith said.
Sugar Hill is not Anderson’s first RV park. He is part owner of the Plantation RV Park in Natchez, Miss., and the Lake Concordia Fishing Camp in north Louisiana. In 2004, he acquired the Judge Felix Poche Plantation in Convent at auction and reopened the historic home as a bed-and-breakfast. After Hurricane Katrina, Anderson, who himself owns a large motorhome, created an RV park on the plantation site to accommodate the big rigs and opened Poche Plantation RV Park to evacuees.
So when he was asked to build a site for FEMA trailers to house Hurricane Katrina evacuees in late 2005, Anderson was already thinking ahead. Working with several other businessmen under the corporate name Sugar Hill LLC, Anderson acquired 85 acres and built 161 lots that met local single-family residential-subdivision standards.
The FEMA trailers were removed from the site in June 2008. Since then, Anderson has converted and rented 40 of the lots to RV tenants. Anderson says there is a waiting list for the 121 unfinished sites.
Anderson, meanwhile, is looking ahead.
“I’m a builder, I’m a developer, and this job is running on all cylinders,” he said. “Poche and Sugar Hill are nearly complete. An historic house – one important to this area – has been saved. My mind is on the next project.”