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The university’s $12.3 million project includes renovating the USF Performing Arts Center, formerly the Scottish Rite Center, at 431 W. Berry St.

St. Francis project hits snag

Council delays vote on $3 million in Legacy money

– City Council members put off a decision on giving the University of Saint Francis $3 million in Legacy money toward its project to create a downtown campus.

Mayor Tom Henry’s administration backed the request, saying it fit well with the Legacy Fund’s goals of reusing community assets, revitalizing old buildings, drawing young people and professionals downtown and leveraging outside dollars. The Legacy Fund is money from the lease and sale of the city’s old electric utility and does not use tax dollars.

The university’s $12.3 million project includes renovating two historic buildings – the former Chamber of Commerce, 826 Ewing St., and the USF Performing Arts Center, formerly the Scottish Rite Center, at 431 W. Berry St.

The former Chamber building will become the new home for the Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership, which is expanding to include a risk management and insurance program. The new Media Entrepreneurship Technology in the Arts program and the school’s music technology program will be housed in the USF Performing Arts Center, which will also be used by students in the new bachelor of fine arts in dance.

Saint Francis President Sister M. Elise Kriss said the project depends on Legacy funding. The Catholic university has already spent $2.3 million buying the two buildings and needs about $5 million each for upgrades and renovations, Kriss said. Both were built in the 1920s.

But spending Legacy money requires a supermajority of six of nine council members for approval. Mitch Harper, R-4th, said he would abstain because he and his wife teach at Saint Francis; John Crawford, R-at large, said he backs the project but opposes using Legacy money; and Russ Jehl, R-2nd, was expected to oppose the spending. That made every other vote critical, and John Shoaff, D-at large, said he was conflicted on the issue.

Shoaff said that, like Crawford, he was in favor of the project itself but was concerned about the amount of money requested.

One question many members had was answered quickly: Council attorney Joe Bonahoom said approval would not violate the separation of church and state because the project met the rules previously created for projects.

Crawford proposed holding the question for two weeks to give time for officials to explore other options, such as making the $3 million a loan or seeing if the Capital Improvements Board could fund it. Crawford’s motion passed 7-2, with Geoff Paddock, D-5th, and Marty Bender, R-at large, voting no.

Kriss said afterward she didn’t know how to react, as the university had not contemplated borrowing the money. Saint Francis officials said the Legacy grant is crucial to raising the rest of the money needed.

The Legacy Fund started with about $47 million on hand; an additional $28 million in investment returns and payments is expected over the next 12 years.

So far, about $24 million has been committed to various projects; about $5 million of that has actually been spent.