DECATUR - Millikin University could soon expand its campus to the corner of Wood Street and Oakland Avenue, finding a home for one of its fastest-growing fields in the West Towne Square building.
The two families that own the building have agreed to sell it to the university for an estimated $3 million, much less than the 34,000-square-foot space is worth, said Peg Luy, vice president of alumni and development for the university.
With another $2 million for renovations and $770,000 for equipment, the university could turn it into a state-of-the-art building to accommodate more than 200 students in Exercise Science and Sport programs.
"It's the ultimate win-win situation, as far as we're concerned," Luy said.
The move is a modified version of what university officials already planned to do. The $85 million Transform MU capital campaign, which officials announced in May 2010, included some $14 million for an addition to Griswold Physical Education Center.
Moving into West Towne Square would cost about $8 million less and provide 12,000 more square feet, Luy said.
The university's Pipe Dreams Studio Theatre and Student Programming and Entertainment Center would remain in the building. Other tenants, including Hickory Point Bank and Tuscany Steak and Pasta House, are not accounted for in the university's preliminary plans.
"We like having a presence in that neighborhood and expanding our campus borders a little bit farther, if you will," Luy said. "We already have students living across the street at The Woods at Millikin, and we're excited about the campus town that's developed there along Oakland and down Wood Street."
For the Demirjian and Romano families, which own the building, it was a chance to give back to the Millikin community.
"We're very connected to Millikin and we understand that Millikin is a huge asset to us in this community," said Kara Demirjian Huss, a spokeswoman for the families. "... It just was a natural fit as they were looking to the expansion of the university and the needs of the university and the academic programs; it became a conversation at that point."
Since the university's board of trustees approved the new plan in September, Luy and her staff have raised just under $2.5 million toward the goal, she said. After all the money is raised, it will take six months to renovate and reopen the building.
"We hope that we're able to complete what we need to do by the end of 2012," Luy said. "Of course, we're always hopeful that we'll be able to get it done even before that."
Not everyone is happy about the plan. Benny Ballazhi, owner of Tuscany, said many customers are upset because they think his restaurant is closing.
Instead, Ballazhi said he is looking for a new location and hopes to move at the beginning of April.
"I'm disappointed, sad, and in the meantime we're going to move forward," said Ballazhi, who has maintained the restaurant in that location for nearly eight years. "... Hopefully wherever we go, we'll still be able to take care of all the customers. And life goes on, I guess."
But for those studying or teaching Exercise Science and Sport programs, the new facility represents an opportunity to have classes in one building, rather than spread out across campus.
The department includes four majors: sport management; athletic training; physical education; and health, fitness and recreation.
"There are some things we can't do right now because we don't have that space; we always have had to split space with athletics," said Don Luy, chairman of the department. "This is going to be the first time that we really have some space that is dedicated to student learning in our department."
He said plans for equipment in the new building will incorporate a lot of new technology, including a "Bod Pod," which "looks like a little spaceship" but allows students to accurately and quickly measure body composition.
There is also space allocated for students to practice their physical training skills with an aerobic floor, free weights, cardio machines and even a 40-meter track inside the building.
"We're just extremely excited about it," he said.
Peg Luy said the rest of the Transform MU campaign is going well, with officials having raised $52.3 million of the $85 million goal.
"We are just so grateful for people's generosity and all the commitments we have to date," she said. "We think that's just a really good position to be in after a year and a half."