$3 Million In Legacy Funds Proposed For U Of St. Francis Downtown Campus

By Emma Koch - 21Alive
By Jeff Neumeyer

January 10, 2014 Updated Jan 10, 2014 at 6:56 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (21Alive) -- $3-million in Legacy funding will be spent to help renovate buildings for the University of St. Francis, if Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry gets his way.

" We believe this significant contribution will continue the revitalization of our downtown," said Mayor Henry, who joined officials of USF on Friday afternoon in the lobby of the school's new Performing Arts Center.

It was to announce plans to turn over the city Legacy funds to help the Catholic University pay to renovate the arts building at 431 West Berry Street, and the old Chamber of Commerce Building at 826 Ewing.

The school owns the properties, and has intentions of moving the Keith Busse School of Business and music technology and media programs into the downtown area.

“A downtown university presence will create cultural activities that attract a diverse creative class, ignite social activity and could lead to the establishment of niche businesses,” said Sister Elise Kriss, President of USF.

“We haven't developed the downtown campus yet, and already the university’s proprietary programs and events have brought 25,000 people downtown to the USF Performing Arts Center.”

" We're making the buildings useful, we're bringing a campus, part of a campus downtown with 300 students, so that's very exciting for me," said Geoff Paddock, the city council member who represents the 5th District, where the buildings are located.

USF had already made the purchase of the two buildings, so it prompts the question, is the city going to be getting a lot of extra benefit for chipping in $3-million for renovations that were going to be taking place anyway.

" Well, I've heard that argument, but we still have to raise the money. If it doesn't happen we're going to have to re-evaluate timeline or something," said Sister Elise Kriss, President of the university.

The school plans to raise $9-million on its own, but is counting on the other $3-million to get the buildings fixed up and students going to class in them by the end of 2015.

" I think to make the most impact, as soon as possible, which I think now is a good time, we would need that $3-million to help in our fund-raising," said Kriss.

" Would they have made them anyway, perhaps some of them, but I'm not sure they would have gone to the extent they were going to go to without that addition of money," said Henry.

The proposal needs city council approval.

It will be introduced to the fiscal body on Tuesday.

The Higher Education Opportunity Fund was created as part of Legacy Fort Wayne and is intended to provide higher-learning nonprofit institutions up to a $3 million, 3-to-1 match for capital investments. The investments must be made in downtown Fort Wayne or surrounding core neighborhoods. The Opportunity Fund has a limited amount of dollars available and applications are considered as they are submitted.

The university plans to renovate a significant portion of the 120,000 square feet of space. Renovations at the two buildings, 826 Ewing St., the former Chamber building, and 431 W. Berry St., the former Scottish Rite, will cost approximately $12.3 million.

The building at 431 W. Berry will house the USF Music Technology and Media Entrepreneurship Training in the Arts (META) programs.

It will offer collaborative workspace for students, recording studios, video production facilities, rehearsal space, facilities and offices. The building also houses a 2,000 seat auditorium, which is open for public rental, drawing even more people downtown.

The university estimates that 250 to 300 students will be enrolled in majors based at the downtown campus, with capacity to grow to 500. It’s expected that the work will create 86 construction jobs, eight permanent jobs and bring 23 existing jobs downtown. Pending progress in the fundraising plan, officials hope to start construction in 2014.

The proposal to provide Legacy funding to the University of Saint Francis downtown campus will be introduced to City Council on January 14. Discussion of the proposal is planned for January 21 with possible final passage on January 28.

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