Don Shea

East St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce CEO Don Shea told the Slidell City Council on Tuesday that the first floor of the Chamber building on Front Street is available for rent.

The space previously was home to a marketplace where local artists sold their wares. But, a “Space Available” sign hangs out front now, as the Chamber and participating artists were unable to reach a rental agreement.

“We tried to develop a fair-market rent scenario, but it proved to be too expensive for the artists,” Shea said.

Shea told The St. Tammany Farmer on Wednesday that artists were offered space on the first floor of the building, located at 1808 Front St., when the Chamber purchased it five years ago. The idea was to provide a showplace for their work, and that eventually, the marketplace would be self-sustaining.

That point never came, Shea said, adding that the Chamber had subsidized about $150,000 in rent to the marketplace in that five-year span.

"We can't continue to do that and still provide services to our members," Shea said on Wednesday. 

He declined to say how much the Chamber owes on the building, but said that the debt is as much as the building's worth, so there is no equity in it.

Shea told the council that the ideal scenario would be for a business to rent the first floor, or for someone to purchase the building and lease the second floor to the Chamber.

The Chamber would have to move if a solution is not reached. Shea told the council he’s open to any suggestions that ensure a move doesn’t have to happen.

On Wednesday, he added that a real estate agent is pursuing potential clients who might be interested in leasing space or buying the building.

“We don’t want to move,” Shea told council members. “The building is beautiful, and the boardroom is precious to us.”