SPSU s land deal with Life dies

MARIETTA - The Georgia Board of Regents has rejected a proposal to allow the fund-raising foundation of Marietta's Southern Polytechnic State University to purchase the neighboring Life University campus. Following a recommendation from University System Chancellor Thomas Meredith, the Board of Regents on Wednesday decided not to approve the deal, citing "the current economic climate facing the state, the University System of Georgia and all (university system) institutions." The Life-SPSU land deal called for the private SPSU Foundation to purchase Life's 89-acre campus to expand its growing operations and, in exchange, pay off Life's $30.7 million in debt. Life, which has been struggling since losing its accreditation and seeing enrollment plummet, would then lease back about 50 percent of the campus to continue operations. SPSU foundation President Mark Graham said he was let down by Wednesday's decision by the regents. "We're just highly disappointed because it looked like a good opportunity for both sides, and it looks like a lost opportunity, too," he said. An appraisal of the Life campus, commissioned by the SPSU Foundation, placed its value at about $55 million, about $24 million less than what the foundation planned to spend. "We are very disappointed in the outcome," said foundation treasurer Gordon Mortin, who engineered plans for the land deal. "It seemed like an extraordinary opportunity. - It's not likely in our lifetime, or the lifetime of our grandchildren, that the opportunity will come again to acquire an adjacent campus for about 55 percent of the appraised value." Wednesday's decision came three days before a May 1 deadline for the regents to take action on the proposal and followed comments made last week by newly hired Life University President Dr. Guy Riekeman indicating he wanted Life to keep its campus. On April 20, the Georgia Board of Regent's Committee on Real Estate and Facilities delayed a scheduled vote on the land deal, saying they needed more time to review the financial details of the proposal. In a statement released after the decision, university system officials acknowledged the "considerable financial support" SPSU managed to gather for the project, but stated, "The Board of Regents was not assured of the long-term fiscal soundness of the project." As part of plans to purchase the Life campus, the SPSU Foundation agreed spend $2.7 million a year to pay off Life's debt. The foundation had agreed to pay about $1.3 million of that amount each year, through a combination of the lease with Life and fees collected from student housing. That left a shortfall of about $1.4 million, with The University System of Georgia expected to provide a large portion of the extra money. Because of the state budget crunch, the Board of Regents last month instructed SPSU President Dr. Lisa Rossbacher to find other sources of funding. She got $500,000 from Cobb County government during the next two years and $100,000 from the city of Marietta for the same period - a total of $600,000, plus other undisclosed sources of money. "We are gratified by the broad support of SPSU from the community, including the city of Marietta, Cobb County, the Cobb Chamber of Commerce and the Marietta Kiwanis," Dr. Rossbacher said in a statement released following Wednesday's decision. "We also have received tremendous support and assistance from our faculty, staff and students over the past months as we have worked on this proposal." While SPSU officials expressed disappointment in the decision, Riekeman celebrated the Board of Regents' decision. "The Board of Trustees and the Life college community are extremely pleased as the circumstances that led to this proposal are dramatically different today with a new administration, increased enrollment and alumni giving exceeding all expectations," he said. "I have met with SPSU's president, Dr. Lisa Rossbacher, and have expressed my desire to work together. I believe that we can all accomplish our goals. Life can maintain its pristine campus while rebuilding enrollment and aid SPSU's need for expansion. This partnership will contribute to Marietta's image and financial future." Last week, Riekeman -hired in March from Palmer Chiropractic College in Iowa in part because of his fund-raising ability - said Life has raised about $3 million from chiropractors who want to help the school. He also said he expects enrollment to grow from about 1,200 students today to between 1,400 and 1,500 students a year from now and about 3,000 within two or three years. At one point, Life University was considered the largest chiropractic college in the world, with an enrollment of about 3,600. But it was stripped of accreditation in July 2002 by the Arizona-based Council on Chiropractic Education, which questioned the operation of the school by its founder and former president Dr. Sid Williams. If SPSU were to take ownership of the land, Riekeman said last week, Life would have had to eventually find a new home to accommodate the expected increase in enrollment. [email protected] This information is reprinted with permission of the Marietta Daily Journal. Copyright 2004. For additional news stories, visit Marietta Daily Journal by clicking on the link below:

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