A current eyesore along Baton Rouge’s waterfront will undergo a transformation in the next year and a half as it’s transformed into the new home for The Water Institute of the Gulf.
During a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning, the new facility to be built on the old municipal docks was lauded not just for the beauty of a new building that will jut out over the Mississippi River, but the research that will bring water management industry to Louisiana.
“As beautiful as this building is, this is a celebration of the world-class research being done here in Baton Rouge,” said Gov. Bobby Jindal. As Louisiana continues to lose coastal land, the state has increased yearly spending on restoration and protection from about $75 million 10 years ago to an average of $600 million a year now, Jindal said.
“But we have to sustain that work,” he said. The institute will be a part of that work as one of the groups helping the state’s coastal authority with research.
In addition to being a research facility, the new building extending over the river will include a deck open to the public.
“It will finally take advantage of our proximity of the river,” Jindal said.
The $22.4 million facility to be located just south of the Interstate 10 bridge, is one of the cornerstones of a 35-acre water campus currently being developed. Already under construction are the new offices for the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the LSU Center for River Studies large-scale physical model of the lower Mississippi River.
Planners envision the campus over the next 10 years will include commercial offices, retail, restaurant and even residential buildings.
The campus is the result of cooperation among the state, city, Baton Rouge Area Foundation, LSU and other entities.
The institute building will be three stories with offices located on the first two floors and with meeting rooms on the third floor to be used by the institute and other groups. The institute building is being paid for with $10 million from the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and $12.4 million in state capital outlay funds.
The Water Institute of the Gulf has 45 employees currently, but that is expected to grow to 55 by the time the building is ready in summer or fall of 2017, said Chip Groat, president and CEO of the institute.
That number of employees is expected to grow to 80 in the next five years as the institute branches out its work, and funding opportunities, beyond the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. That expansion of mission has already begun with the institute working on potential projects in Vietnam, Latin America and Egypt, Groat said. So much of the world’s population lives in coastal areas that the lessons and technology developed to deal with Louisiana’s disappearing coastline has applications worldwide.
Formed in February 2012, The Water Institute of the Gulf was also named to receive a portion of RESTORE Act money as a result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. About $4 million of that money will be available soon, and then the institute will receive $22 million over the next 15 years, about $1.45 million a year.
The institute also is working with the state Department of Natural Resources on water issues across the state, not just in coastal areas.
Groat said that could be an area in which the institute expands as well.
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