Though it largely flew under the radar throughout the site selection process, RI International representatives say the C Temple Commercial Building at 3455 Florida Boulevard proves a better location for the Bridge Center for Hope than the Baton Rouge General Mid City campus, its better-known contender across the street.
The Bridge Center’s chosen location—which is owned by Collis B. Temple Jr., a board member who previously said he would resign from his post if his building were selected—and BRG were the top choices for the mental health diversion facility out of five that RI International toured. BRG was long believed to be the likely choice.
But RI International’s recommendation—and, ultimately, the board’s decision—for the other facility mostly came down to one key fact: The commercial building has much more usable space (25,600 square feet) than the hospital’s 15,500 square feet.
“The biggest differentiator is that we could do more programs at this site in one building,” says Thomas Castellanos, CFO for RI International. “We’ll have four different suites serving the community at this site, whereas we could probably only do three across the street.”
Despite today’s decision, BRG CEO Edgardo Tenreiro says the hospital’s Mid City campus remains active, and he looks forward to working with the Bridge Center and other health providers to address the region’s needs.
“Our behavioral health services at Mid City continue to grow and I don’t expect this decision to slow us down,” Tenreiro says in a text message. “Of course, I’m disappointed the Bridge Center board didn’t select our campus; however, I see how the site they chose makes sense for them.”
The commercial building has a cost advantage, too. Over the term of the center’s five-year lease, the estimated rate there is $1.1 million—or 50%—lower than the estimated lease rate at the BRG site. The Bridge Center will pay $10-12 per square foot, with some landlord contribution to tenant improvements like demolition and roofing, as opposed to BRG’s $24.50 per square foot price tag with little landlord contribution to tenant improvements.
Moreover, the Bridge Center already has the OK from Temple to begin renovations as soon as the demo is complete. As a public facility, BRG would’ve required months of approval from HUD and two banks before the process could begin.
Still, the commercial building needs significant repairs to its storage suite, and a generator and sprinklers will need to be added. Overall, however, an empty space is better for the facility, which is meant to resemble a living room, says Bridge Center board chair Kathy Kliebert.
“Trying to make a hospital look like a home is not an easy thing to do,” Kliebert says. “It’s a lot easier to make an empty space look like a home.”
The next step is to negotiate and sign a lease, ideally by Feb. 1. Officials say renovations—which Kliebert estimates will cost at least $1 million—generally take between four and six months to complete.