Friday, June 21, 2024

The Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce campaigns to save home, community history

by BIZ Magazine

As the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce prepares to celebrate the centennial of its home, that same building on the corner of Edwards and Travis Streets in downtown Shreveport is in dire need of some TLC. 

What began as the Shreve Memorial Library on Dec. 6, 1923, the building began a transformation into Chamber Plaza with the launch of a Capital Campaign at their Annual Banquet in 1983.

Earlier this year during its 2023 Annual Banquet, the Shreveport Chamber has repeated history by announcing a new campaign to preserve and enhance this historical monument. 

“When we look at it, this is a hundred-year-old building, and when you drive around downtown, you see (other buildings) that have essentially been destroyed by neglect. So at a certain point, we just had to step up and do this to maintain what this building means to the community,” said Dr. Tim Magner, president and CEO of the Greater Shreveport Chamber of Commerce. “There’s a symbiosis between us and our  building. And if not us, who? If not now, when? We’re going to reinvest in our downtown. We’re going to make sure that this building has another 100 years of life.”

More importantly, Magner believes that the building also is a great representation of the hopes and dreams of the community and to reinvest in that and carry on that legacy is important. 

“This is a library that the community came together and raised money for — hosted baked sales, and the whole bit — to try and build. I mean, 1,000 people came out to the opening of this building, and that was when there were 46,000 people in Shreveport. It was a huge deal.”

He continued, “Being able to not just see this as a business related venue, but potentially even a community venue as well, it’s beautiful. It’s one of the few green spaces that’s left in downtown Shreveport and we want it to be that park-like experience so that folks can sit in the shade or can have lunch outside.”

The campaign seeks to preserve the building’s historic exterior, replace its aging systems, and update it to continue to serve as the home to the Chamber and as a downtown meeting place.

“This space requires flexibility. I am continuously surprised every day at the value of the flexible space that we have. We have those two large meeting rooms, and we have the lobby area. And over my tenure, it’s interesting how many different ways we’ve been able to configure that,” Magner said. “We recently had a whiskey tasting in here. We also hosted lunch meetings, dinners, press conferences, trainings, and business seminars…That flexibility is one of the hallmarks of what we hope that we can do more of.”

As businesses are using their facilities differently, especially post-pandemic, the chamber is looking to add technology that allows remote meetings.

“We’re going to lean into this because hybrid meetings have become really important, as are audio and visual editing. We want to put a studio downstairs so that people can come and do a podcast or cut a commercial.”

In addition, the building lends itself to office space. Magner noted that the chamber is currently talking with several organizations about housing in the space. 

“We want to have more people using the building on an ongoing basis. We want people to see this as an extension of their downtown office or an opportunity to have a great place to meet and showcase to current and potential clients,” he explained.

The goal is approximately $5 million. This will go towards repairing the roof, replacing the windows, replacing the elevator, updating the heating and cooling system, restoring the lobby restoration, renovating the large meeting rooms, upgrading the building’s technology, setting up an audio/visual studio, and constructing a warming kitchen.

“We’re hopeful that there will be folks who love the idea and want to give us some money to help wherever it’s needed. More than anything, we want people to feel some ownership for this. So however they can contribute, we will take any and all and we are grateful for everyone’s help.”

So far, 20% of that goal has been raised via donations, grant money, and some state capital outlay dollars. The renovations will be done in phases with the building’s exterior coming first. 

To this end, the chamber has created a 501c3 foundation for the building, making all donations tax deductible.

Additionally, an endowment has been created for the ongoing servicing of the chamber building. The idea is based around serving as stewards of the building for the next generation so that 100 years from now, that generation can say how this endowment kept the building going for that time.

“From the roof, HVAC system and elevator, we’re spending a considerable sum every month just to sort of keep body and soul together. By establishing an endowment, we will be able to do things like replace an air handler or replace a chiller or fix the windows so that they don’t leak 20 years from now,” Magner said.

Magner noted that this is their time to pay it forward from the leaders who invested in rehabilitating the building in the 1980s, saying, “I feel like this is our time to do that for the next generation. We’ve benefited from their leadership over the last 40 years, and now we want to pay that forward.” 

“The chamber has been around for 113 years, so when I think of the role I and the board play, we’re really just caretakers of this organization for the next generation,” he added.

— By David Specht, BIZ. Magazine

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