The Bridge Center for Hope, the city-parish's forthcoming psychiatric stabilization and detox center, has narrowed its search for a potential location down to two mid-city sites — including one property currently owned by a member of the nonprofit's board of directors.
A portion of Baton Rouge General's Mid City campus is the front-runner for the taxpayer-funded facility, said Kathy Kliebert, chair of the Bridge Center board. But officials are also considering a vacant office building across the street at 3455 Florida Blvd.
That property is owned by Collis B. Temple Jr., a member of the Bridge Center's board and the CEO of Harmony Center, which runs residential facilities for the developmentally disabled and group homes for juveniles.
The Bridge Center's board is expected to select a location at its next meeting, at noon next Tuesday at the downtown offices of Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P, on the 23rd floor of One American Place, 301 Main St. The meeting will be open to the public. The Bridge Center wants the firm that will operate the facility to recommend which site would work best.
Temple is expected to recuse himself from the meeting. If his property is selected, he plans to resign from the Bridge Center's board to prevent the potential for a conflict of interest, Kliebert said.
She said Temple only proposed the site after she asked board members for alternative locations when it became clear there could be significant costs associated with renovating the Baton Rouge General space.
“We are trying to find the best price and location for the taxpayers,” Kliebert said in an interview after a public meeting of Bridge Center's executive committee Tuesday, when potential locations were discussed. She cautioned that the nonprofit is still negotiating with representatives of both sites.
The 24-bed facility, set to open in the spring, is expected to treat up to 5,000 residents a year facing a mental health or substance abuse crisis and will serve as an alternative to an emergency room or the parish prison. It will be funded through a 1.5-mill property tax voters approved in December 2018 that's projected to raise around $6 million a year.
A "mill" is one dollar of tax for every $1,000 in taxable property value.
The nonprofit is expected to receive its first distribution of tax dollars next week, said Charlotte Claiborne, the Bridge Center's executive director.
The facility, the first of its kind in Louisiana, will be operated by RI International, a nonprofit specializing in mental health and substance abuse services that operates similar centers in California, Delaware and North Carolina.
The firm is currently evaluating how much it would take to renovate each location to fit its Crisis Now model of treatment. Instead of the traditional model of medicating patients in a hospital-like setting, the Bridge Center will resemble a home-like environment, with warm colors, couches, murals and an open floor plan.
Kliebert said they are depending on RI International to recommend which site would best fit their model.
“I want for (RI International) to tell us so that we can tell the public that this is why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it and be completely transparent about it,” Kliebert said.
Baton Rouge General's Mid City campus, which has had unused space since shutting down its emergency room in 2015, has long been discussed as a potential site for the Bridge Center.
The building was constructed using funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That means any renovations would have to go through a federal approval process, a hurdle that could potentially delay the Bridge Center's opening, Kliebert said.
The second site, directly across Florida Boulevard, has been vacant for at least two years. It would need to be gutted and renovated, Claiborne said.
The nonprofit also considered the former Dollar General location at 3939 Choctaw Drive, but that site was eventually ruled out for, among other issues, being too small.