$1.7 million BREC visitor center under way

Fueled by the largest individual cash donation in its history, BREC plans to break ground Monday on a new $1.7 million, 4,300-square-foot visitor center at Magnolia Mound Plantation.

More than half of the money for the project came from Sue Turner and family members, who donated $750,000 to the BREC Foundation in 2010 to get the project off the ground.

When cost estimates rose above the original $1.5 million projection, Turner promised another $377,759 to the project, said Carl H. Sages Jr., executive director of the BREC Foundation. The visitor center will be named the Sue Turner Visitor Center after her death. A state law prohibits public buildings being named for living people, Sages said.

The donated funds also will be used to create an endowment to help provide for future maintenance and upkeep of the 221-year-old plantation, said Carolyn McKnight, superintendent of the East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Parks Commission.

Turner said the donation was an easy decision to make.

“I have been associated with Magnolia Mound since it was in the process of being torn down,” Turner said when reached by phone.

Turner and others were able to prevent the French Creole plantation from being demolished decades ago, she said. That effort eventually paved the way for BREC to purchase the property in 1965.

Turner, a Plaquemine native and a resident of Baton Rouge who was married to the late Bert Turner, of Turner Industries, reared five children.

The visitor center should be open by this time next year, McKnight said.

It will contain a gift shop, multipurpose meeting room, an exhibit space and a mini-theater, she said.

“The building is basically positioned in such a way that it is recessed into the north terrace,” McKnight said. “When you are on the mound, you don’t see it.”

It will have a glass exterior and a green grass roof, she said.

“It’s designed in such a way that it’s coming out of the ground,” she said of the Trey Trahan-designed center.

About 3,000 children visited the plantation last year to take part in summer camp activities, McKnight said. The site also received 14,000 general visitors, she said.

During the construction phase, LSU archaeologist Rob Mann will work with the Friends of Magnolia Mound organization to examine the site for artifacts, McKnight said.

The plantation consists of 16 acres remaining from the original 900 acres. In addition to the main buildings, the grounds include a vegetable and herb garden.

In addition to the Turner donations, the BREC Foundation also received a $25,000 donation from former BREC Foundation President David Ellison.

The rest of the money to pay for the project will come from “Imagine Your Parks” funds dedicated to Magnolia Mound, she said.

The “Imagine Your Parks” program is funded by a 3.25-mill property tax approved by parish voters in November 2004.