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Concordia seriously considering move to Round Rock


Austin-American Statesman (23/02/2005)
By Camille Wheeler

Private university Could join Texas State in budding higher education complex.

Landlocked on a tiny campus tucked in the shadow of Interstate 35, Concordia University is discussing a plan to yank up its Central Austin roots and move to Round Rock.

Concordia President Tom Cedel says that to do so, the cash-strapped university would sell its campus — valued at an estimated $84 million, including at least $47 million for the land — to possible buyers that could include at least one close neighbor,St. David's Medical Center.

"This is huge for us," Cedel said Wednesday. "There are certainly a lot of questions now, but we're treating it as a very real possibility."

The proposal, spearheaded by Austin lawyer John Avery, involvesmoving Concordia's cramped 23-acre campus to a much larger tract in northeast Round Rock, just south of a new Texas State University campus scheduled to open in August.

But for the plan to work, Concordia must get the blessing of its local and national leaders and come to an agreement with Avery on the Round Rock land. It also must find a buyer for its current property and then pay to lease the facilities while building a new campus, officials say.

The Board of Regents who oversee the Austin university, one of 10 in Concordia's national system, will be in Austin today and Friday to discuss Avery's proposal. The regents also will consider another option to expand Concordia's current campus, Cedel said. The Concordia University System's national board was in town last week to discuss the plan.

Avery, whose family's 101-acre donation helped create a permanent home for the Round Rock Higher Education Center, said he's offering to sell Concordia 75 to 80 acres on a budding higher-education complex.

"They want to provide a full university experience," Avery said of Concordia. "The only way to do it is to move away from their current confines."

Concordia's student population of almost 1,200 grew by 50 percent in the past five years and needs at least 80 acres for campus facilities, including athletics fields and dormitories, Cedel said. The university hopes to at least break if it sells its Austin land and rebuilds in Round Rock, he said.

Austin appraiser David Bolton said Concordia's land alone is worthbetween $43.6 million and $65.3 million, based on sales of nearby properties. He added that the proximity of two major institutions, St. David's and the University of Texas, significantly enhance the land's value.

UT officials, who have struggled with their own space constraints, said Wednesday they are not interested in Concordia's land.

"We're not in a financial position to pursue the Concordia site," said Don Hale, a UT spokesman. "We've got a lot of capital issues here to address on the campus that we have."

Preston Gee, a senior vice president with the St. David's HealthCare Partnership, said the hospital system has its eyes on Concordia's property.

"We're obviously interested in what happens to that land so close to our campus," he said. "We're looking to expand, both programmatically as well as geographically in that vicinity." Avery said he's offering Concordia a contract in which the university would put down an undetermined amount of money, evaluate a possible move over six months to a yearand have the option to buy or back out of the deal.

Alternately, Concordiacould spend at least $50 million expanding its Austin campus, Cedel said. Blocked in every direction, that growth could be vertical, in the form of an underground parking garage with dormitory space on top, he said.

Concordia, a private Lutheran university, relies on tuition and donations and is trying to grow its $11 million endowment to $50 million within five years, Cedel said.

Regents were cautious about the proposal.

"I'm very thrilled about this opportunity," The Rev. James Linderman, president of the Texas District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, said of the Round Rock proposal. "We'll have to discuss it and pray about it, and we'll get a very clear vision when the time comes to make a decision."

Linderman, who stressed that he wanted to consider all options, said moving to Round Rock would provide relief for a campus sandwiched by St. David's to the south and neighborhoods to the north and west, and buffeted by the roar of I-35 traffic to the east.

"It would be away from some of the noise of the city and have some of the quiet that's conducive to study," he said.

Another regent, Melissa Knippa, said it's too early to support a plan. "Unfortunately, we're a little premature," she said.

The Chandler Road and FM 1460 intersection, once a gateway to the country, is fast taking on an urban look: The Round Rock Higher Education Center of Texas State University-San Marcos will open its doors this fall, and a new Seton hospital is set to open by decade's end.

Texas State plans to coordinate a nursing program with Seton, and Concordia would hope to do the same, Cedel said.

Stephen Kinslow, Austin Community College's executive vice president, said Thursday that officials at that school also are talking with Avery about building a separate campus just west of Texas State's Round Rock campus. ACC is a partner with Texas State and will offer freshman- and sophomore-level classes and associate degrees at its new campus this fall.

"We're trying to create a jigsaw puzzle, where every piece matches the others," Avery said of the 1,200-acre tract, including future residential and commercial developments, that he and his family are shaping in northeast Round Rock.

Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell said the city would welcome Concordia.

"Having somebody like Concordia relocate lends more credence to what we're trying to do with education and health care," he said.

If Concordia moves, it must somehow pack up its history, too, Cedel said, adding that it must continue to honor its mission work, culture, church and community. That might mean taking pieces of buildings, such as a window from Kilian Hall, Concordia's oldest facility, which opened in 1926.

Linderman said moving could create new history.

"If we stay where we are, then we have defined ourselves to be a small university (that won't) take too many over 1,000 students," he said. "We're out of our seams. It would give us the opportunity to redefine who we are."

Concordia University

  • What: Private university that's affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
  • Founded: 1926
  • Location: 3400 N. Interstate 35
  • Students: Almost 1,200; last year, the university recorded its largest ever fall enrollment with 1,162 students.
  • President: Tom Cedel, the eighth president in university history. Cedel, a retired Air Force colonel and former fighter pilot, took the helm in 2002.
  • Expansion plans: Concordia ultimately wants to increase its parking spaces from 348 to 1,975 and more than double its total 307,000 square footage, including academic buildings and dormitories.

Source: Concordia University