Oldham Chamber to move
into newly renovated space
Downtown office made possible by Rawlings Group
LA GRANGE, Ky. (April 2014) – Many would agree that change is good, and change is coming to La Grange in a big way. The Oldham Chamber & Economic Development will soon have a new permanent home on Hwy. 53 in downtown La Grange in the former Southern States building, turning a dream into a reality.
“For a long time, our chamber has wanted to have a significant presence in downtown La Grange,” said Deana Epperly-Karem, executive director of Oldham County Chamber & Economic Development. “This new space gives the Oldham County Chamber & Economic Development credibility. It affirms all of the hard work our board and volunteers have put in over the years to make this organization a success.”
Plans were set in motion several months ago when George Rawlings of the Rawlings Foundation purchased the former Southern States property that faces Second Street and Hwy. 53. The property already contained three buildings, lots for storage and parking space.
Photo by Helen McKinney
The new office building is going up at the former location of Southern States in downtown La Grange, Ky.
Renovation and construction are currently under way, and Karem said she hopes the chamber will move into its new space by July 2014. “This is a very exciting opportunity for the chamber and the community,” she said.
When the property became available for purchase, Karem said local businessman and chamber advocate Jim Zimmerman asked Rawlings if he would consider buying the space and creating a community-type venue for local business. Rawlings and his foundation decided it would be a good thing to do and bought the site. He and Zimmerman then began creating a vision for the building and the adjoining pavilions.
In March, Karem was invited to Rawlings’ office to view the architectural renderings. He asked her if she “thought it would be a beautiful space for La Grange and wondered if I thought it would be useful.”
She emphatically agreed that the space would be an important new venue for events and businesses. Next Rawlings asked her what she would think about the chamber making it its office space. “I was so excited I could hardly sit in my chair,” said Karem.
“Having a space like this has been a vision of mine since coming to Oldham County in 2006,” she said. She and the chamber staff are thankful for the honor bestowed upon them by this generous gift, Karem said.
“Mr. Zimmerman deserves a lot of credit for seeing the opportunities and asking Mr. Rawlings to invest in our community in this way. Zimmerman has long been an advocate for our chamber, and this is one of the most significant contributions he could have ever made.”
“I have a soft spot for the Chamber of Commerce and want to do what I can for them,” said Zimmerman. “This facility is going to be a catalyst for future growth and expansion, and serve the community well.”
Zimmerman said it has been a long journey to get to this point. Some time ago he felt confident that Southern States would close and the property be for sale, and that the city or someone should act quickly. When it did close, he called the Southern States office in Virginia to see how much was wanted for the property.
“I wrote a two-page letter to Mr. Rawlings as to my vision of what the space could be used for; businesses like tourism, the chamber, Discover Downtown
By moving the chamber from its current location, space would also be freed for the Ohio Valley Railroad Historical Foundation to expand from the basement of the current chamber building at 412 E. Main Street into the upper level of the building where they want to establish a museum.
The old Southern States building is “a natural location for the chamber,” said Zimmerman. “First Street is the main corridor for getting into downtown La Grange. The location is so convenient.”
The new space will definitely make the chamber more easily accessible. Many people visit the current location to pick up community information, get directions, request maps and business brochures.
Karem said the overall design “has a very open feel with lots of natural light.” In addition to the three buildings already on the property, two pavilions are being built. Pavilion I (the building directly behind the new chamber offices) will have a lot of the original structure preserved and updated. “Mr. Rawlings’ vision includes treasuring as much of the original architecture and the materials as he can,” she said.
Pavilion II (the building directly behind All Aboard Liquors) is larger than the first pavilion and includes as much natural light as can be included in the structure. “They will both be beautiful and something the community will want to use and can really be proud of,” Karem said.
In terms of benefiting the entire county, Karem said, “this kind of investment is transformational. The space will be a real gateway into downtown La Grange, and it will have a presence that lets people know they have entered a special community.”
She said she hopes it will inspire new investment in and around downtown La Grange. Rawlings has designed it to be a community space that can be used for events, concerts, picnics and special celebrations. “The chamber will have it as its office, but it is a real gift to the entire community.”
Karem pointed out the appropriateness of the chamber’s new move as it celebrates 50 years of service in Oldham County this year. A slide show of the chamber’s historical milestones were presented at the Showcase Oldham County Luncheon on March 7. “What a great way to honor our history, past and current business leaders, and the progress of our organization.”
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