Baton Rouge’s foray into the digital media and video gaming industry moved forward Wednesday with the groundbreaking for LSU’s new Louisiana Digital Media Center.

The $29 million, 94,000-square-foot building will house video game giant Electronic Arts and LSU’s Center for Computation and Technology on the southeast corner of the campus.

It will be near the existing Louisiana Emerging Technology Center and the John M. Parker Coliseum.

“This is about growing the digital media industry right here in Louisiana,” Gov. Bobby Jindal said at LSU. “Today is about more than just a building.”

The governor said the project sends the message that “Louisiana is the place for cutting-edge digital media companies.”

LSU Chancellor Michael Martin echoed those sentiments, saying the project is “symbolic” of the university becoming more aggressive in economic development.

“It’s a cultural shift here,” Martin said.

“LSU is committed to being an entrepreneurial, engaged institution.”

This project is a development from the state’s recruitment of Electronic Arts to Baton Rouge in 2008 and the state’s “Blue Ocean” economic development strategy of targeting industries with greater potential.

EA, including its EA Sports division, is best known for its Madden NFL football franchise. The company is headquartered in Redwood City, Calif.

At the time, the large video game corporation established a presence on the LSU South Campus with the EA North American Testing Center. EA has about 400 workers in Baton Rouge – some of whom are part-time student game testers – and a $6 million payroll that could grow by another 200 or so employees.

The new center is expected to open in October 2012.

Mayor-President Kip Holden credited EA for remaining committed to Baton Rouge through speed bumps and “even when the economy tanked.”

Using video game lingo, Mike Robinson, EA head of worldwide quality assurance, added, “It feels like, for us, we beat the latest level.”

The project is a joint effort among the state, the city, LSU, EA and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.

Last fall, LSU started offering an academic minor in digital media that involves fields like video game and animation design as LSU attempts to grow its Arts, Visualization, Advanced Technologies and Research Initiative.

The three-floor building will have a classroom, an auditorium, conference rooms, audio-visual equipment, a coffee shop and some of LSU’s CCT resources on the first floor.

CCT will exclusively occupy the second story, and EA will have the third floor.

The project is funded through state construction and economic development dollars, along with $3 million from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The facility costs roughly $24 million, but the building forces LSU to relocate its sheep and swine exhibit building and make other adjustments, which pushes the total cost to $29 million.

EA will pay $465,000 in annual rent, once the new building is completed, and LSU estimates the coffee shop will make roughly $13,000 a year.

EA’s deal with LSU runs through June 2018.

Jordan Blum
Capitol news bureau