For 122 years, the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce has been uniting professionals to build business and improve the local community. Today, its location may be different, but the goal is still the same.
(L to R) Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce CEO/President Jaye Baillie collaborated with City Manager Rick Horst and Stentiford Construction Services owner Paul Stentiford to move the Chamber from Ocala’s downtown square to Southeast 3rd Street.
Over the last century the Chamber has been at five locations throughout Ocala. In an effort to stimulate our downtown development, the organization’s on the move again.
According to City Manager Rick Horst, the Chamber owned its building in Ocala’s historic downtown square, but the city owned the land. In an attempt to acquire that property back from the Chamber, a deal was struck.
“The Chamber still had 17 years left on their property lease,” Horst explains. “The city wanted the property, but we had a dilemma—one of us had to agree to buy out the other. We worked to consolidate several city departments, making it more convenient for customers to take care of city business, and we bought out the Chamber of Commerce’s building. It was a win-win situation all around.”
The Chamber has moved into its new location on Southeast 3rd Street, across from city hall—a spot formerly occupied by the city utility office. The Chamber’s old location will be demolished, making way for new construction and downtown development.
“Our goal is to create a sustainable downtown environment,” says Horst. “Several businesses have already moved downtown and are enlivening the area. This will increase the daytime population, which will help business owners and continue to grow our community. Our downtown is a great place; we just want to make it better.”
Above: This artist rendering of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce’s new location shows what the building will look like once the finishing touches, including the Chamber’s well-known sunburst, are in place.
Jaye Baillie, CEO and president of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber of Commerce, couldn’t agree more.
“The quality of life and the quality of businesses in this area is remarkable,” she says.
Of course, like any growing community, the downtown district is critically important.
“Within every vibrant community is an exciting downtown,” Jaye adds. “Over the past few years the city has generously invested in our downtown area. We’ve seen an increase in retail shops and restaurants. In order to keep growing, though, we need additional services to be added to the downtown area.”
The city adopted a downtown development plan several years ago that identified three particular blocks as crucial to the successful development of downtown Ocala. One of those blocks housed the Chamber of Commerce. Baillie says that with the Chamber relocating, the organization cleared the way for future development.
At just under 9,000 square feet, the new location is comparable in size to the old building. But, according to Baillie, the facilities are far more conducive to successfully and efficiently handling Chamber business.
“The new building includes an expanded board room that will be available for use by Chamber members wishing to hold meetings, lectures, and workshops. Additionally, a member lounge allows members to have a comfortable and convenient place to meet clients for an in-town meeting,” says Baillie. LCD monitors, WiFi access, and kitchen facilities make the space modern and convenient to use.
“We’re extremely excited to be in a workspace such as this one,” says Baillie who has been affiliated with the Chamber for seven years. “The efficiencies in the layout will allow us to interact easily with Chamber members and fellow employees.”
And she’s quick to thank and acknowledge local contractor Paul Stentiford for serving as the project’s contractor and doing so on a pro bono basis.
“The Chamber is indebted to Paul for his expert advice and his generosity,” Jaye says. “Paul’s commitment to the project enabled the Chamber to come in under budget and under deadline. We couldn’t have done it without him.”
Jaye, who has lived in the Ocala area since she was just a toddler, is proud of how our community continues to grow and come together.
According to Jaye, one of the areas Ocala lacks, though, is downtown living accommodations. Through the downtown revitalization project, apartment homes and a boutique hotel are strong possibilities.
“Many large cities have a walkable downtown including both living space and amenities,” Jaye says. “By the Chamber getting out of the way and moving to our new location, we’re able to market two city blocks that could be used as additional retail and living space. The revitalization will allow for a robust new downtown Ocala with the addition of new bricks and mortar.”
Even with its new-and-improved location, however, the Chamber of Commerce’s mission remains the same.
“I view the Chamber as a venue for business interaction,” Jaye says. “We are a center for business education, a pillar in the community, and a go-to for new CEOs and individuals interested in relocating to our area.
“The Chamber is about relationships,” Jaye continues. “We serve as a catalyst to increase commerce within the community.”
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