University offering $3.5 million to purchase First Baptist

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Southeast Missouri State University's parking prayers could be answered if the school's fund-raising foundation buys the First Baptist Church property on Broadway, school officials said Friday.

School officials said the university foundation would offer $3.5 million to buy the 3.4-acre tract at 926 Broadway and its three buildings -- the church itself, an education building and an activity center. The property sits just south of Houck Stadium.

The university would end up with added parking, and new space for:

Alumni and fund-raising offices

An expanded child development center

A state-designated technology innovation center and place to help start-up businesses

Academic support services for the university's athletes

A women's softball locker room

Coaches' offices

  • Athletics department marketing staff

    An indoor practice facility for the softball and baseball teams

    Student recreational sports including fitness programs, basketball and roller hockey.

    "This is an opportunity that comes up once in a lifetime," said Don Dickerson, president of the school's board of regents, after the board voted in closed session to pursue the purchase.

    Dickerson said it's an opportunity to make use of the church with white columns that has been a landmark in Cape Girardeau. The Baptist congregation has held services there since 1927.

    But the Rev. Jay White, church pastor, said the congregation hasn't agreed to sell yet. White said the church's 500 members will vote at a congregational meeting on June 8 on whether to accept the offer.

    If the deal goes through, the university would put another $1 million into building improvements, including heating and other mechanical system upgrades, school officials said.

    Under the proposal, the university would take immediate possession of the activity center and the education building, but allow the First Baptist congregation to continue to use the church sanctuary until Dec. 31, 2005, under a nominal lease arrangement.

    Dickerson said the university's need for more parking on the south side of campus was a key reason why the board authorized the purchase plan.

    The university initially would have use of 161 regular parking spaces and eight handicapped parking spaces and within a few years would have use of all 229 parking spaces available at the church.

    The real estate deal would eliminate the need for the university to build a parking garage on nearby Henderson Avenue at a cost of $3.25 million that would have netted only 182 additional parking spaces, school officials said.

    Southeast also saves by not having to spend $1.5 million to build a new alumni center next to Wildwood, the former residence of university presidents which now functions as a guest house and a place for receptions.

    Dickerson said the board approved of the plan and the foundation's executive committee agreed to make the purchase offer.

    Paying off

    School officials stressed that student tuition won't be used to buy the property or make improvements in the buildings.

    "The funds we are talking about here could not be used to pay salaries or give raises," he said, acknowledging that the public often has difficulty understanding how a university plagued with operating budget cuts could look at buying buildings.

    The plan relies on $2 million in proceeds from parking facilities bonds, $50,000 from campus parking and transit funds, and private dollars from the university foundation including $800,000 in foundation funds and a $1.6 million loan from the foundation.

    The loan would be paid back over 15 years with the university making annual payments of $149,600.

    School officials said they expect to pay for that with state funding for the technology innovation center, federal funding and various grants. No student fees would be used to retire the loan, officials said.

    The center initially will operate with $300,000 in funding and will receive another $200,000 in tax credits, Dickerson said.

    The center could serve as a pilot program that could eventually relocate to a proposed technology and research park on the university farm along Interstate 55, Dickerson said.

    University president Dr. Ken Dobbins said the proposed real estate deal makes sense in many ways.

    There's a need for recreational space to serve the approximately 1,000 students who reside on the south side of campus, he said.

    The church activity center already has a gymnasium that could be used as an indoor practice facility for the softball and baseball teams during the day and for student recreational sports at night, Dobbins said.

    The move also would free up existing space on campus.

    KRCU, the Public Radio affiliate station, would move from its Henderson Avenue studio to a building on Sprigg Street in front of the Show Me Center. The building, which once housed a program to assist migrant workers, now houses the Southeast Missouri University Foundation and alumni services.

    The academic support staff for the athletics department would move from Kent Library to the activity center. Textbook services then would be relocated from the University Center to Kent Library, freeing up space in the University Center for student organizations, officials said.

    The Child Development Center, which is currently housed in the Scully Building and provides a learning program for children, would move to the church education building. That would provide more space in Scully for the human environmental studies department, officials said.

    335-6611, extension 123

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