|Public Information Office
310 Owen Hall, Campus PO 1820
Asheville, NC 28804-8507
828/251/6526 FAX: 828/251-6142
|For Immediate Release
August 16, 2000
UNC Asheville Foundation Pursues
Penney's Building for UNCA;
The UNC at Asheville Foundation Inc., a private charitable organization that supports the University, has announced it will pursue the purchase of the former J.C. Penney building in downtown Asheville. The announcement is based on the Foundation's decision to partner with an anonymous benefactor. The benefactor has placed the building under contract for one year to allow the Foundation to raise enough funds for its purchase. An agreement between the benefactor and the Foundation calls for a one-year Foundation effort to raise $1.15 million in private funds to purchase the building and adjacent parking, said Foundation Chair Fred Groce.
"The Foundation's decision to purchase this building is an investment in UNCA Chancellor Jim Mullen's vision," said Groce. "UNCA has been seeking expanded community involvement since his arrival a year ago, and we support his efforts 100 percent. We see this as a tremendous opportunity to meet a wide range of student and campus needs while contributing to the downtown's growing economic vitality.
"Our vision is one of a versatile, synergistic center that places the liberal arts in the heart of the real world. We see this as downtown presence, not a downtown campus. It will enrich our students' lives, it will enrich the quality of life in downtown Asheville, and it will enrich our region's creative spirit," he said.
The Foundation building will help alleviate a critical space crunch on the UNCA campus. Preliminary campus discussions with representatives from Art, Music, Drama, Dance and Jewish Studies have identified many possible uses for the building. Among those are studios for art majors and faculty, and performance and rehearsal space for drama, dance and music students. The performance space can also translate into more cultural offerings for the public in the form of lunch-time lectures, evening readings, concerts and theater, as well as programs in the arts that are directed to area youth.
Discussion of additional studios for UNCA art students and faculty members delights Tucker Cooke, Art Department chair. "We have been struggling for several years with our shortage of studio and gallery space for students. When we moved into our current space in Owen Hall in 1979, there were 20 art majors. Now we have 75, but our space has remained the same. The Drama and Music departments also face this issue -- more majors but no more room." UNCA's 1997 Campus Facilities Master Plan called for several building additions, including one for the Art Department and another for the Drama Department, as well as a new building for the Music Department, but there are currently no state funds for the projects.
UNCA is also seeking collaborations with area non-profit arts organizations and regional artists, and hopes to develop gallery spaces for paintings, sculpture and photography, and for installations related to the environment, social issues and other interdisciplinary areas.
The Penney's building was one of more than a dozen downtown buildings the Foundation looked at over the past eight months and the one that proved to be the best site for a UNC Asheville arts center. On the list of pluses for the 54,000-square-foot building is its structural integrity and potential for a striking architectural presence, day and evening pedestrian and vehicular accessibility, flexible space, and dedicated parking for service vehicles, which could include shuttle buses from campus
The Foundation will be seeking private funds to pay the $1.15 million purchase of the building and adjacent parking, $2 million to begin phased renovation, and $250,000 for operating costs the first two years, including utilities and insurance. The $3.4 million price tag is still a bargain, compared to the cost of new construction, Groce said. "If we spend $40 to $50 a square foot on remodeling, the end result is a much lower cost than the $90-per-square-foot cost of most new construction and $125-per-square-foot cost of new classroom space."
The Foundation will begin the active phase of fund raising for the building in November. Funds contributed to the project will go to the Creative Initiatives portion of its ongoing comprehensive campaign. The Foundation hopes to open the building's first floor in about a year.
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