By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Officials at Pittsburg State University conducted a town hall meeting Monday night at Watco Cos. to discuss a possible partnership with the city of Pittsburg that would be the first of its kind.
PSU is planning three construction projects totaling $61.2 million in the next five years. Of the total, 88 percent has been covered by private donors, who contributed $29.6 million, and by students, who contributed $24 million.
Now, the university is seeking an investment from the city of $7.6 million from the revolving loan fund and bonded investments to help fund the remaining 12 percent.
“It will mean a stronger Pittsburg and a strong Pittsburg State University,” PSU President Steve Scott told the small group of residents in attendance. “It is the largest set of capital improvement projects in the history of Pittsburg.”
Projections by Municipal Consulting LLC suggest that in 10 years, the three projects could lead to the creation of 444 jobs — 257 of which would be permanent — and could have a total economic impact of $329 million, including $5.2 million in direct revenue to the city of Pittsburg and $3 million in direct revenue to Crawford County.
The study also suggests that in 20 years, the total indirect economic benefit could top $1 billion. Those figures include local personal incomes, local retail spending and the local property tax base.
In April, PSU students endorsed a fee increase to entirely fund one of the projects, a $14 million expansion and renovation of Jack H. Overman Student Center. They also endorsed putting $7 million in student fee increases toward another of the projects, a $30 million Fine and Performing Arts Center to be built at Ford and Homer streets that by Monday was almost entirely funded.
A third project, a $17 million expansion and renovation of Weede Gymnasium, would provide expanded space for indoor events, and for recreational and athletic events for students and the region.
Kendall Gammon, a former PSU athletic standout and NFL player who now serves as the major gifts officer for the university’s athletic department, said during the presentation that the expansion of the gymnasium would play a key role in the “recruitment war” among universities for top athletes.
The expansion would include a 300-meter track and seating for up to 1,000 fans. It also would include an 8,000-square-foot weight room, a Hall of Fame meeting room, new locker rooms and a kitchen.
“We talked to the MIAA (Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association) commissioner, and we’d get a regular rotation for conference meets and would have a shot at Division II meets too,” Gammon said.
Jeff Poe, president of Pitt Plastics and chairman of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors, spoke in support of such an effort as “the piece our community has been missing for years.”
He said it would be a perfect venue for the university and local businesses to put on regional and national events.
B.J. Harris, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, also spoke in support of the project. He said it would play a key role in his recruitment of large statewide, regional and national events.
“The opportunities are endless,” he said, adding that with an event center, he could have secured a three-year contract for the Kansas Association of Emergency Managers annual conference, the annual Jake’s Fireworks national convention, and national food vendor shows.
Blake Benson, president of the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said during the presentation that the three projects would put Pittsburg on pace as the economic engine for Southeast Kansas. He said the Weede project in particular would become a driver for the local hospitality industry by pulling visitors’ dollars to the community during the months they are needed most — December through March.
Scott, the PSU president, said the city stands to gain in another way: If the annual trend of 1.5 percent enrollment growth continues, PSU is in line to top 10,000 students in the next 17 years. It has grown 35 percent since 1987, with this fall’s enrollment setting another record at 7,289 students. Economic studies indicate each student brings $11,000 to the local economy each year.
Mayor John Ketterman said that while he believes there are “some good projects here,” he didn’t want to make any quick judgments.
“I want a chance to mull this over,” he said. “There’s a lot to consider. It’s a lot of money, but also a lot of possibilities.”
Officials representing the university and the city encouraged residents to discuss the proposal with others in the community and to plan to attend the City Commission meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27, at the Beard-Shanks Law Enforcement Center. The meeting is to be televised on Channel 6.
“My initial reaction is I appreciate the university having this public meeting; I just wish more citizens would have attended,” said City Commissioner Marty Beezley. “The presentation was so informative and so well done. The university is trying to be inclusive. I encourage everyone to come next Tuesday to hear it for themselves.”
IN THE PAST FIVE YEARS, nearly 50 percent of the capital investments in Pittsburg have come from Pittsburg State University, including $56.4 million in renovations, expansions and new construction, officials said. From 1987 to 2012, the university spent $200 million on its buildings.