Baptist Community Ministries is taking its mission to the bank. The religious organization has broken ground on a former Whitney Bank branch at 1320 St. Charles Ave., and the renovated space will serve as an office and meeting space for more than 100 groups supported by BCM.
“It’s a real fundamental shift for us,” said BCM CEO Inman Houston. “We’re really enthusiastic about what it’s going to do for us and our work with grantees. It will be a bit of a more visible approach to engagement in the city.”
Founded in 1995, over $231 million has been invested in local nonprofits and community partners, according to their website.
Houston said the current BCM offices, located at 400 Poydras St. in the Regions Bank building, aren’t the easiest to access for some recipients of BCM grant money. Taking the mission to street level and out of the CBD will help connect the charitable organization to those who turn to it for help, Houston said.
“What it enables us to do is host community convenings,” he said. “We imagine also the potential for some co-working space for our grantees. We have dozens of grantee partners that we would make the space available to.”
Grantees will be able to reserve space for staff meetings or even just a single room to host a meeting if they do not have their own offices, Houston said. Local architectural firm EskewDumezRipple was able to incorporate elements of the old building into the new design for the approximately 12,000-square-foot building.
Project Executive Kevin Sprehe of Ryan Gootee General Contractors is spearheading the cleanout of the former bank branch and conversion into the new BCM offices. Demolition has already begun, and Sprehe says his team will be ready to hand over the keys to the completed building around July 4.
If renovations go as planned, Houston said his team will move in sometime around the beginning of August.
“We have already gutted the entire interior, with the exception of a couple of millwork panels that they wanted to maintain,” Sprehe said. “It’s a pretty open floor plan that they’re going back with. One of the cool, unique things that they’re doing is reutilizing the safes in particular. That would be something that would be extremely difficult to take out, so instead of trying to take them out, we’re leaving the doors in place and kind of welding them open so they can’t be shut. One of them is going to be kind of like a conference room.”
Sprehe said the building itself is in great shape, and it has been a pleasure to work on the site, especially since the design team kept unique parts of the building. Once complete, there will be plenty of open office space, multiple workstations, and a flex area on the first floor that can lend itself to many applications. The parking lot in the rear of the building will also get a full revamp to comply with current city storm water management regulations.
Houston said it was important for BCM to work with local, New Orleans-based architects and contractors, which he said is a reflection of his organization’s commitment to the community it serves.
“It’s a great partnership,” Houston said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got a building, and they know how to build out buildings, so they’re doing their core work. But I think there’s also a good partnership that goes beyond just the nature of the business.”
The building was purchased for $5 million and projected renovation costs were not disclosed, according to Jennifer Drummer, director of development of BCM.