LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The Jennings Visitor Center sees up to 40,000 visitors a year.
Thursday was the grand opening of the new Gator Chateau building at the center.
The Chateau was a $664,000 project, 10 years in the making.
“Everyone’s heard the phrase ‘You’ve come a long way baby,’ and we’ve come a long way baby," said Marion “Butch” Fox, president and CEO of the Jeff Davis Parish Tourist Commission.
The 5,000-square-foot facility houses baby gators, and fosters them until they’re old enough to be released into the wild.
The original chateau was built in 1989, and now, 30 years later, it’s been re-vamped.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser said projects like the visitor center are what makes Louisiana such a big tourist attraction.
“This is what makes Louisiana special," Nungesser said. "We topped 50 million visits this year, not because of anything other than the people of Louisiana.”
Blood, sweat and tears went into the building, and at the end of the day, it really was the people who made it happen.
One of those people, Bobby Palermo, was the builder of the chateau.
“My husband was responsible for getting the construction work done on this," said Roberta Palermo. "He volunteered a lot of time on it, and he passed away last week.”
His years-long battle with cancer came to an end, but not before seeing the completion of the chateau.
“He lived to finish it," Palermo said. "Not only that, but to see my daughters get married, and our grand-babies. But this was his main focus in the last few years.”
The new building was dedicated to Bobby at today’s ceremony.
More than 22,850 people from across the United States and 50 countries have visited the Gator Chateau in the last year, according to Laura Aviles with the Ehrhardt Group.
Visitors are able to hold baby gators from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Public feedings will resume every Friday starting in June.