The Advocate

After a $3.5 million construction project that took just under a year, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber has set up residence in a bright new office with high ceilings and plenty of open space for collaboration.

A grand opening block party for BRAC’s Center for Economic Development is being held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday at 564 Laurel St., culminating from discussions about getting a new office building that began years ago.

“We think the Baton Rouge region is very forward looking and it was time that we had a center for economic development as modern and as forward looking as the region to reflect the positive achievements,” said Michael DiResto, BRAC’s executive vice president.

Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer, has publicly called the old office building “the Death Star” because of the black glass that made up the exterior and the low ceilings. DiResto said BRAC didn’t bring business prospects to the building, which hadn’t been renovated since the 1980s.

While the organization looked at other downtown locations, nothing panned out. Over the time, BRAC officials realized that the location was great, but they needed to retrofit the old shell and put a forward looking and vibrant structure in its place, said Ric Kearny, BRAC’s chairman.

“We have a great looking facility that pretty much any prospect would be impressed to come to,” Kearny said.

To that end, a pitch room has been set up for BRAC officials to meet with businesses that are considering locating or expanding in metro Baton Rouge. The room features a large touchscreen computer, kind of like a super-sized iPad. Video conferencing equipment also will be added to the room.

“This is a high-tech space we can use when we are talking to business prospects,” DiResto said. “This is more inviting.”

The work also added about 2,000 square feet to the BRAC headquarters. Much of that space has been taken up by a conference room, which was built where the office parking lot used to stand.

DiResto said there’s been interest from outside groups about using the space for events.

Another addition to the office is an entrepreneurial space. Representatives from groups that help fledgling companies, such as SCORE, a group of retired executives that provide business advice, and PTAC, which gives advice on getting government contracts, will keep regular office hours there.

“We want to be a center for economic development,” DiResto said.