It’s all bare earth now, but a big future is envisioned for the property along River Road at Oklahoma Street in Baton Rouge.

The Water Campus is expected to be a national and international hub for river, coastal and delta research, and on Wednesday, government and nonprofit officials gathered to mark the beginning of construction for the project.

“We know it will take a comprehensive approach,” Gov. Bobby Jindal told the crowd at an official groundbreaking Wednesday. “The buildings are beautiful and exciting, but it’s the work that will take place within these buildings that is really important to our state.”

The first of three buildings to start construction this year will be the LSU Center for River Studies, which will house a large-scale model of the lower Mississippi River. The model will allow researchers and students to test the river’s workings and study the impact of modifications, like coastal restoration diversions.

A balcony walkway that will surround the second floor of the building will be lined with educational material aimed at middle school students, said John Davies, Baton Rouge Area Foundation president. The second floor will overlook the 90-by-120-foot model of the Mississippi River being used by researchers on the first floor.

Jindal said Louisiana has been making unprecedented investments in coastal restoration and protection, and in order to keep that success going there needs to be investment in the science and technology.

The $16 million building and model will occupy about 50,000 square feet, much larger that the current scale model housed at LSU.

Money for the project is coming from Coastal Impact Assistance Program money with the building donated to LSU once complete. LSU will operate the model with additional funding from the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, according to a Governor’s Office.

The Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s real estate entity, Commercial Properties Realty Trust, will be the developer of the Water Campus.

It’s just the first step in a larger plan to develop a 33-acre Water Campus that will eventually include the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, The Water Institute of the Gulf nonprofit research group and plans for inclusion of engineering firms or other private enterprises with an interest in coastal restoration, river or water-related issues.

Jindal said this center will help Louisiana become a hub of national and international experts focused on river delta issues and will help generate new jobs for the region.

“This is not just about what we’re doing at LSU,” said F. King Alexander, LSU president. The intent is for the Water Campus to be a center for researchers from all over the world to work.

“It’s great to be in the nucleus of this kind of research,” he said.

Chip Groat, president and CEO of The Water Institute of the Gulf, added, “The projects that come out of this will be exported around the world.”

The Water Campus also will serve as a hub for the states coastal restoration and protection work as efforts continue on a $50 billion, 50-year plan. Since 2007, the state has spent about $2 billion on coastal restoration efforts and the challenges these efforts face will just get more difficult as the state moves to larger projects, said Kyle Graham, state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority executive director.

The Water Campus will be used to overcome those challenges as well as to build an educational and research foundation which the state can draw upon for years.

With the LSU Center for River Studies building starting construction now, two other buildings in the Water Campus should get their start this year as well.

A building to house the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority will be built next door to the river studies building. Construction of the 40,000-square-foot, $20 million project is expected to start in April. That will be followed this fall with the start of construction on the Water Institute of the Gulf’s $20 million headquarters to be built on the old city dock.

“Hopefully, we’ll finally take that Baton Rouge dock off the list of one of Baton Rouge’s ugliest places,” Jindal said.

These three buildings are just the first of what planners see as a campus of building that will include state and federal agencies involved in water issues, and private businesses such as engineering firms.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.