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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Sister M. Elise Kriss, University of Saint Francis president, and Mayor Tom Henry announce plans to use Legacy money for a downtown campus.

Legacy funds pledged to St. Francis upgrades

– The University of Saint Francis could be one step closer to its proposed $12.3 million project to renovate the former Chamber of Commerce and Scottish Rite buildings.

Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry announced a proposal Friday to invest $3 million in Legacy money to the university to help with the renovation process.

“This also I think shows the city of Fort Wayne this administration’s commitment to education as a true pillar of this city,” Henry said. “A lot of people don’t realize that we have, truly, a college town. We have over 30,000 college students in this city, and they (the colleges) are truly a major employer.”

Pending approval from the City Council and the university raising the remaining $9.3 million, school officials said they hope to start construction this year.

The University of Saint Francis Performing Arts Center – formerly the Scottish Rite Center – at 431 W. Berry St. will house USF’s music technology program and its Media Entrepreneurship Training in the Arts program.

Work would involve renovations to the existing 2,000-seat auditorium, in addition to creating workspace for students, recording studios, video production facilities, rehearsal space and offices.

The former Chamber building at 826 Ewing St. will be home to the Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership.

Officials hope the business and leadership programs will help connect students with local businesses to address “brain drain” – students leaving the area after graduation – and create a pool of talented candidates for regional jobs.

“What’s really exciting to me is this is also going to mean 300 to 500 students will be coming to downtown Fort Wayne to help enjoy not only what we have done, but will be able to do even further as they become part of our downtown arena,” Henry said.

The university estimates 250 to 300 students will be enrolled in programs based out of the downtown campus, with the capacity to grow to about 500.

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

Money for the improvements will come from the Higher Education Opportunity Fund that was created as part of Legacy Fort Wayne to provide nonprofit higher learning institutions up to $3 million on a 3-to-1 match for capital investments, officials said.

Legacy Fund money comes from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility.

The projects must be in downtown Fort Wayne or surrounding neighborhoods.