GSRI Avenue name change rejected

After the item fell one Metro Council vote short of passage Wednesday, GSRI Avenue, between Nicholson Drive and Gardere Lane, will keep its name despite an effort by some businesses to change it to Innovation Park Drive.

Charles D’Agostino, executive director of the Louisiana Business and Technology Center, said 17 out of 18 business and property owners along GSRI offered their support of the name change in anticipation of the development of LSU’s Innovation Park.

D’Agostino also said the small businesses in the LBTC’s incubator wanted the street renamed.

“The name change is critical to the development of this park,” D’Agostino told the council. “This can impact economic development for the parish and the city.”

But one key business opposed the name change — Gulf South Research Corp., a subsidiary of the now defunct Gulf South Research Institute for which the street was originally named in the 1960s.

Suna Adam-Knaus, the owner and president of Gulf South Research Corp., said that in 1998, her company made a tactical decision to move to GSRI Avenue to align itself with the street name.

She said it would cost her business $84,000 to change marketing materials, from business cards, to the website and letterheads, to reflect the street name change.

D’Agostino said no other business affected on the street estimated such high costs for materials.

He also said he would be in favor of waiting until the end of the year, so Adam-Knaus could use the rest of her current materials.

The move to change the street name was intended to distance the street from negative associations in that area of East Baton Rouge Parish.

Jerome Lohmann, a principal with Professional Engineering Consultants on GSRI Avenue, said the company has an additional building it rents out that has been vacant for more than two years.

“We can’t get anyone to even look at it,” Lohmann said. “We think changing GSRI will drastically get us a better chance of getting that building.”

Other employees from Gulf South Research argued to the council that the name change could be confusing to emergency responders like firefighters, police and paramedics.

Rob Myers, a Gulf South Research employee, said only a portion of the avenue was proposed for a name change, and the residential side east of Gardere would have stayed the same.

Myers said changing half of the street runs the risk of segregating the low-income community.

Several council members said they were skeptical of the benefits of changing the name.

“It doesn’t change your location, is my issue,” Councilwoman Tara Wicker said. “Changing the name will not change your location.”

D’Agostino said GSRI has no historical context.

“It has no value or name recognition other than to GSRC,” he said. “I get all these visitors and no one knows what GSRI is anymore. That part of history is gone. The new frontier is the innovation park.”

Councilman Trae Welch said D’Agostino and the LBTC want the street to be named to benefit them, just like GSRC does.

“You want the same thing that they have. You want to change the name to benefit you,” he said. “It’s tit for tat.”

The street name change fell one vote short of the necessary seven council votes it needed at Wednesday’s zoning committee meeting.

Welch, Wicker, Chauna Banks-Daniel, Ronnie Edwards and Donna Collins-Lewis voted against the name change. Joel Boé was absent.

Council members Scott Wilson, C. Denise Marcelle, Chandler Loupe, Buddy Amoroso, Ryan Heck and John Delgado supported the name change.

A vote to defer the item for 30 days also failed.

After the vote, D’Agostino said it was “truly amazing” that the request was denied because one out of 18 landowners opposed it.

He said he would consider bringing it back to the Planning Commission for reconsideration.

Planning Director Troy Bunch said the LBTC can bring the item back for reconsideration at any time but encouraged them to show they’ve made some change or effort to appeal to the opposition.