East St. Tammany Chamber gets ready to open new headquarters

The newly renovated two-story building on Front Street in Olde Towne Slidell started out in 1910 as a hotel, across the street from the city’s train station. In its 104 years, it has been home to restaurants, bars, a brewery and — soon — the headquarters of the East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce.

Chamber members and officials should feel comfortable in historic surroundings. Since 1984, the group has worked out of a house on West Hall Avenue, one of three that were built for managers of a creosote plant in the early 1900s.

But the chamber has outgrown that home, CEO Dawn Sharpe-Brackett said. The organization has more than doubled in size since Hurricane Katrina, from fewer than 500 members to more than 1,100. As the chamber increased its staff to meet the growing membership’s needs, the house became cramped, with one employee relegated to the kitchen.

A new location was part of the chamber’s five-year plan, Sharpe-Brackett said, and the chamber looked at a variety of locations. But when the building on Front Street came down in price, the chamber grabbed it, she said, paying $570,000 and a similar amount for renovations.

Bringing a historic building that had been vacant back into commerce should help Slidell’s economy, she said, noting the importance of Olde Towne to the city.

For the chamber, the key advantage is more space: 8,000 square feet. The bottom floor will be a cultural center, with tenants who will occupy gallery space. The building also will house a coffee shop.

The chamber will occupy the second floor, which has three conference rooms that will allow for workshops and other events. The building also provides a virtual office for people who work from their homes but might need a place to meet with a client or hold a meeting, Sharpe-Brackett said.

The actual move will be April 14, but the chamber gave members and others a preview of the renovated space Tuesday with a party held in part to thank donors who paid $100 a nail for the new location. So far, that effort has raised about $40,000, Sharpe-Brackett said.

The chamber’s former home is up for sale.