A long-awaited $3.5 million redesign and expansion of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s downtown headquarters are underway, a move that officials say will allow the city to better compete for business prospects.
“When you look at chambers of commerce around the country, just about all of them are in nicer digs than we are,” said Adam Knapp, BRAC president and chief executive officer. “The consultants who have advised us have pointed out that the building was a detriment in our economic development efforts.”
The nearly 11,000-square-foot Center for Economic Development at 564 Laurel St. is set to open in late summer 2018. It will feature large meeting rooms, high-tech presentation spaces, an open floor plan with collaborative work stations, as well as a new conference center able to host BRAC board and other large meetings and training sessions.
BRAC said the large conference room will be available for other organizations, businesses and nonprofits to use. The additional space will make possible new partnerships with small business and entrepreneurial training programs, research resources for businesses and other nonprofits. A new courtyard on the 6th Street side of the building will also make the conference center accessible as an indoor-outdoor environment.
The new building will allow the 30 full-time BRAC employees to again work under the same roof. The organization has been leasing additional space on Laurel Street for a number of years, Knapp said.
Jim Ellis, chair of BRAC’s building committee, said the new office is the final step in an evolution that began in 2005, when the group reorganized itself as a regional economic development organization.
The work on the building involves tearing the it down to its frame. “It’s going to be a total gut and redo,” Knapp said. “If you look at the video on our website and the fly-through of the renderings, there’s nothing resembling our current offices.”
BRAC’s office was built in 1955 and last renovated in the mid-1980s. Knapp said the building currently features large private offices, a layout which doesn’t fit with the collaborative, team-oriented business spaces of today.
Because the new floor plan will be more open, Knapp said it’s better suited to change and keep up with the business needs of the 2020s, 2030s and beyond. “We also have the ability to grow a bit if we need to add more staff,” he said.
WHLC Architecture designed the new space and Milton J. Womack is the contractor.
For the time being, BRAC has temporarily moved its offices into the 10th floor of the Chase South Tower, a floor below the temporary offices of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. LABI, the state’s leading business lobbying group, is set to permanently move into its new offices at 500 Main St. in late 2018/early 2019.
Fundraising for the BRAC building is underway, with commitments to date nearing $1 million. BRAC is selling opportunities to name the building and parts of the property.