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St. Francis buys Mizpah building

– The University of Saint Francis furthered its burgeoning downtown presence with the purchase of the Mizpah Shrine Building at 401 W. Berry St.

The private, liberal arts college signed the purchase agreement for the property Wednesday, said Trois Hart, the university’s director of marketing. The purchase includes the parking lot associated with the building, adjacent to the parking lot of the former Scottish Rite, which the university bought for $1.3 million in November 2011.

In September, Saint Francis announced it would buy the Greater Fort Wayne Chamber of Commerce Building at 826 Ewing St. for about $700,000. The university will take possession of the building after the Chamber relocates in spring 2013.

The university has been in negotiations for the Mizpah Shrine building for the past six months, Hart said, but declined to disclose the amount the university will pay for the property.

The building is listed for sale by NAI Harding Dahm for $495,000. The nearly 18,500-square-foot building includes office space, a lounge, ballroom, restaurant with a dining room and bar and a meeting room, according to the listing. It was built in 1886 and was last renovated in 2002.

The university has no definitive plans for the building at this time, Hart said.

The university’s decision to buy the property was mainly to acquire the parking lot, Hart said, but the building is also connected to the USF Performing Arts Center, or the former Scottish Rite, and right between the Chamber building and the performing arts center.

“It makes sense strategically that the building in between would also be a part of our footprint,” she said.

With more of its students attending classes and events downtown, Hart said the university needed to have sufficient parking to go with its growing campus.

The three-story, 38,000-square-foot Chamber building will be renovated and used for the Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership. Officials hope to enroll 300 to 500 students and faculty during the first year of operation, but both the performing arts center and the Chamber building will require about $10 million in renovations.

The university has fundraising campaigns under way for this purpose.