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Chamber building sold to St. Francis as campus addition

Fort Wayne can now add a college campus to its downtown.

The University of Saint Francis has purchased the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce building at 826 Ewing St., Sister M. Elise Kriss, the university's president, announced Monday.

The three-story, 38,000-square-foot building will be renovated and used for the Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership.

The building is adjacent to the new USF Performing Arts Center – formerly the Scottish Rite Center – and the downtown business sector, a perfect fit for all, Kriss said. The Performing Arts Center will be used for the USF Media Entrepreneurship Training in the Arts program.

"Locating the school of business near the USF Performing Arts Center supports the META program's downtown momentum," Kriss said. "Since META intersects with business courses, locating the study centers near one another creates convenience for our students while partnering with the city to draw visitors to an enhanced downtown.

The move also provides more space for the business school's other programs and opens up main campus space for the School of Arts and Sciences, she said.

The main campus on Spring Street welcomed 2,366 students this fall, setting a new enrollment record for the school, and in January, the university opened a new regional campus in Crown Point.

School officials purchased the Chamber building with the vision of enrolling 300 to 500 students and faculty during the first year of operation, Kriss said.

Officials are unclear exactly when that will be, because it will depend on when the renovations are completed.

After spending about $2 million for the properties, the next step will be to raise an additional $10 million to renovate the two downtown buildings, Kriss said.

Mayor Tom Henry expressed his excitement for the plan during Monday's announcement.

"We have been working very hard for the past five years or so to make downtown Fort Wayne a point of destination," Henry said. "We have the arts, we have sports, insurance, banking, but education was one void we needed to fill.

"I am thankful to St. Francis for taking that bold step," he said.

Although there are about a dozen colleges and universities in Allen County, none was located in the downtown area, "until now," he said.

The Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce is expected to remain in the building through the spring of 2013 while it undertakes a search for new office space, Chamber president and CEO Mike Landram said.

"I'm so very thrilled, I never thought I would be having a press conference to make this announcement," Landram said.

The Chamber building has been for sale since 2010.

The building is 84 years old and will transcend to new life as a school of business, and there could not be a better complement to the Chamber of Commerce, Landram said.

Landram said university officials have demonstrated to the community that they know what they are doing, he said, adding, "I can't wait to see the finished product."

Although the Chamber has not determined a future location, it's certain to be downtown, Landram said.

"We view the downtown as the nucleus of the business hub, and we want to be located in the center of that nucleus," he said.