The Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce recently turned the page on a new chapter in its 58-year history with the sale of its once highly-touted office building on Pauls Drive.
While the chamber will remain in the $3-million building as a tenant, it's days as serving as a leasing agent for the building have come to an end. Rick Lewis, who took over as president and CEO of the chamber in May, billed the sale — and the previous move to de-emphasize its once popular directory — as a key step in returning the organization to its core mission of serving members and the community.
"The important thing is we're now in the chamber-only business," Lewis said. "We outsourced the directory and now we've sold the building, so all we are now is a chamber. We had promised members to divest of everything other than being a chamber."
The two-story, 21,500-square-foot building, home to the chamber for 10 years, was once seen as one of the cornerstones of a plan to convert the area bordered by Pauls Drive and the Brandon Parkway into a "Main Street" town center that would feature tree-lined sidewalks, homes within walking distance and parks, coffee shops and boutiques.
The project, however, never fully materialized — in part because of the Great Recession. The building remains attractive to companies, but Lewis said transferring the management requirements will put the chamber in a position to bring more success to members.
"You can either focus on managing a $3-million building and putting out a directory for profit, or you can focus on members," Lewis said. "It's difficult to do all three well. Now we have one thing to do well.
Since an October 2014 change in leadership, the chamber has looked to revive flagging interest by concentrating more on member services. Since then, it has restored its monthly luncheons and created more community and business events.
Lewis said it will now further enhance those initiatives with a three-year event plan and a concentrated focus on membership services. New bylaws will be incorporated to create vice chairs for programming and events and membership services, and separate committees will help steer each initiative. The vice chairs will hold an executive seat on the board.
"Rewriting the bylaws shows how we have a new vision," Lewis said. "What you're going to see is a new mission, a new strategic objective and a new governance document that supports those objectives.
"It's all nerdy and technical, but from a leadership perspective, it's critically important to position us to be what we intend to be."
The proposed bylaw changes Lewis issued this week also include increasing the board membership from 18 seats to 25 seats, and changing how board members are nominated.
Lewis said he's simply listening to members and responding to their desires. To that end, he'll stage a series of town hall-like meetings to gather more feedback leading up to the August monthly luncheon where members will approve the bylaw changes. The meetings will be held at the chamber offices: 9 a.m. on Friday (July 7), 11:30 a.m. on July 11, 2 p.m. on July 19 and 9 a.m. on July 27.
"Not to use a cliche, but it's a new day for us," Lewis said. "These are big differences. For too long, too much of our time, too much of our focus was on areas that didn't involve members.
"Now we have an environment and a situation where members can be proud of the chamber and know it's their chamber. We're not a for-profit business, we're a civic organization."
Contact Ernest Hooper at [email protected] Follow him @hoop4you.