Portage's University Center to be 're-missioned'

2014-04-05T19:58:00Z 2014-04-05T23:00:12Z Portage's University Center to be 're-missioned'Joyce Russell joyce.russell@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222 nwitimes.com

PORTAGE | The University Center will soon no longer be the University Center.

Officials here are looking not only to change the name of the 32,000-square-foot building at 6260 Central Ave., but are also looking to "re-mission" its future.

The idea of a higher education campus anchoring Portage's downtown redevelopment was conceived during former Mayor Doug Olson's administration. The building was constructed under former Mayor Olga Velazquez's administration.

Its initial purpose was to house classrooms and office space for universities and colleges to provide classes. A portion of the $6.1 million building also was going to house WorkOne office to provide unemployment and job training services to residents.

Construction on the building, which is owned by the city's Redevelopment Commission, was completed just about two years ago.

The building was an issue in the mayoral election in 2011 between Velazquez and present Mayor James Snyder. Snyder criticized its construction. Shortly after taking office, he announced that WorkOne would not be moving into the building.

During the next few months his administration worked with local universities. It secured leases with Indiana University Northwest and Ivy Tech Community College in July 2012, allowing classes to be held later that year. Calumet College of St. Joseph also leased a share of a classroom. Purdue North Central also entered into a lease with the city's Redevelopment Commission, but has chosen to opt out early from the lease, said A.J. Monroe, director of community development. Valparaiso University was considered a potential tenant at one time, but never executed a lease.

In April of last year, the Portage Economic Development Corp. moved into some of the space that was suppose to be occupied by WorkOne and late last year Monroe's department moved from City Hall into the building.

About a year ago Snyder also tried to work out a deal to bring annexes of county offices to the building, but the proposal didn't pan out.

Snyder recently appointed City Councilman John Cannon, a Redevelopment Commission member, to work with staff members to determine the future of the building.

"We are evaluating where we stand, a year and a half after it opened," said Monroe.

Cannon said he sees the second floor staying classrooms with the first floor a developmental area or welcoming center for the city.

A provision in the bonds used to finance the construction of the building may limit how officials re-mission or re-purpose its use. According to the bond documents, only 10 percent of the building can be used by non-public entities, said City Attorney Gregg Sobkowski.

"That's just a hiccup," said Cannon. "We may be able to work out something."

Monroe said they are also taking into consideration that any major changes in the building's purpose may require extensive renovations since the building was constructed with education as its primary purpose.

Monroe said they hope to have a draft report back to the Redevelopment Commission at either this month's meeting or in May.

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