Changing Landscapes: Impact of University’s growth stretches beyond campuses to communities
Construction zone: Troy Campus
TROY’s Montgomery Campus helps to spark revitalization of downtown area
Long before Montgomery’s skyline included a new convention center and hotel complex, new riverfront facilities and a minor league baseball stadium, Troy University was making a sizable impact on downtown revitalization.
TROY’s Montgomery Campus brought new life to a section of downtown that had long been neglected, beginning with the purchase of the former Whitley Hotel in 1972. The hotel, which was originally completed in 1925 and had provided lodging for such famous guests as Eleanor Roosevelt, Katharine Hepburn, Gene Autry and Duke Ellington, was renovated to become the University’s main administration and classroom building.
Whitley Hall, as it is now known, houses campus offices, the Barnes & Noble University Bookstore, a dining area, classrooms and meeting spaces.
In 1976, the University purchased the Paramount Theatre building, located adjacent to the Whitley. The building was restored and renovated and reopened as the Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts in 1983.
Other buildings such as the former South Central Bell building, which is the current Bartlett Hall, and the the former Capilouto-Berns building, known as Building 136, were purchased and renovated for use as classroom and academic office space.
From 1995 to 1998, more than a dozen dilapidated buildings were razed to make room for new campus development. The Empire Theatre on Montgomery Street was one such structure. The University’s Rosa Parks Museum and Library now stands in its place and annually attracts visitors from throughout the world. The Children’s Wing was added on property adjacent to the Museum in 2006.
The addition of Curry Commons in 1999 also has helped to serve as a focal point for the campus.
Montgomery City Councilman and TROY alumnus Charles Jinright said the University has helped to transform the area.
“Troy University was really on the cutting edge of the revitalization of downtown Montgomery,” Jinright said. “The things the University has done in downtown from the renovation of the Whitley and the Davis Theatre to the addition of the commons area have helped to spur revitalization in other areas. One of the most impressive things to me is the addition of the Rosa Parks Museum, which serves to capture so much of the important history. Troy University took a part of downtown Montgomery that was dying and gave it new life.”
Jinright said the development of the Montgomery Campus has helped revitalization in other areas as well.
“What the University has done in downtown Montgomery is like planting a flower garden,” he said. “One project has led to another and we are seeing that flower garden begin to spread in the downtown area.”
Dothan Campus serves as attractive northern gateway to city, leaders say
When Troy University built its Dothan Campus on more than 270 acres along U.S. Highway 231, the area was sparsely developed. Today, the area has become a high-growth corridor and Dothan Chamber of Commerce officials credit the University’s investment as one factor.
Matt Parker, president of the Dothan Chamber of Commerce, said the location of the campus has certainly had an impact on the growth.
“The U.S. 231 north area has evolved and developed and the presence of the university in a high-growth corridor in the community goes hand and hand with that,” Parker said. “Definitely the investments seen have helped expand the development of that corridor.”
Jeff Coleman, president and CEO of Covan World-Wide Moving, Inc., said the location of the campus provides an attractive gateway to the city.
“As development left downtown and moved out north and west, it has been nice having the campus located where it is sort of a welcoming presence to traffic entering Dothan from U.S. 231,” Coleman said. “The grounds are always well-maintained and it looks great from the highway.”
Parker said local educational institutions play a major factor in economic development, and TROY’s presence in Dothan pays tremendous dividends for the local economy.
“I think when doing business recruitment and promoting your area, [education] is one of the top three things people ask about. It’s just essential in today’s economy and it is a tremendous asset for the community to have Troy University in our back yard,” Parker said. “TROY’s global affiliations and connections all over the world are another selling point I use.”
Coleman agreed that the Dothan Campus serves as an attractive selling point for economic development.
“As incoming Chairman of the Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce executive committee, we look at Troy as a major economic engine,” Coleman said. “Having higher education in the area is a big help when we are trying to attract industries, and we are thankful that we have it.”
Coleman also emphasized that having a local campus is an asset to existing businesses whose employees can earn degrees while working.
“As an employer headquartered in Dothan, many of our managerial and senior executive staff have TROY degrees,” Coleman said. “For people in the existing workforce, having the campus here locally really helps. I think the number-one benefit of having the campus here is the access to higher education that it provides to place-bound students … and other nontraditional students.”
The impact of the University’s presence in Dothan goes beyond economics, Parker said.
“Not only do we look at the immediate educational benefit, [the campus provides] cultural development and opportunities to take part in the various productions and events that occur there,” Parker said. “The Small Business Development Center and the Center for International Business and Economic Development are great assets that work to promote economic development in the community.”
Town and gown relationship vital to city, Troy mayor says
Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford says it’s impossible to quantify what the University means to the city.
“The University enters into every location decision of new businesses and industries,” he said. “The growth of Troy has been driven by two things: the University and entrepreneurs like Wiley Sanders.”
For the mayor, whose 28 years in office spans the administrations of both Dr. Ralph Wyatt Adams and Chancellor Hawkins, that growth has been dynamic.
“There have been constant improvements not only in academic areas but in sports settings as well, and the joint-use projects such as the stadium, the basketball arena and the tennis courts have given the city’s residents a lot of local use.”
“When you see growth on campus, it’s impacting the growth off campus,” he said.
Lunsford points to the development of apartment complexes, retail development, fast-food locations and hotel construction as outward signs of the town-and-gown partnership, not to mention job creation.
“The University had a direct impact on the location of CGI. It agreed to redevelop the shopping center and was dedicated to developing (academic) programs for the long-term benefit of the company,” he said.
In fact, Parklane Shopping Center had become a “run-down eyesore in the community.”
“We had limited occupancies and there was constant deterioration of the facility,” Lunsford said. “Thanks to the University, working with the city and CGI, that area is now being transformed into an absolutely beautiful and functional facility that is creating a lot of jobs in the city.”
Lunsford, too, points to the city’s budget as an indicator of the impact the University has had on the city.
“My first budget in 1982 was the first to exceed $10 million – this year’s budget is $47.5 million and we’ve done it by growing the tax base not the tax rates,” he said. “We’ve had no new taxes in those years, so, yes, the city is impacted every day by the University.”
Schmidt: Cooperation key factor for both University and community
Dr. John Schmidt has bridged the town-and-gown relationship in a unique way. A senior vice chancellor for the University, he has also led the county’s economic development corporation as its chairman and has seen first hand the importance of a partnership between the city and the University.
“There is synergy, energy and collaborative spirit that exists between the two entities,” he said. “It’s more than just talk – and the evidence clearly shows a wonderful relationship between the University and the city and county.”
That relationship has sparked many infrastructure improvements in the city – not just the ones necessary to support a litany of construction projects on the Troy Campus.
Upgrades to water and sewer services and improvements to city roadways have been spurred by the dynamic relationship between the city and the University, and by construction projects such as Trojan Village, Parklane Shopping Center and the new Trojan Arena.
However, Schmidt points to something deeper than the surface improvements. The
University has helped Troy be more recession proof.
“A recent study I saw reported in the Montgomery Advertiser shows that communities with universities in or near them have steady growth and slight increases in quality of life even in tough economic times,” he said. “That certainly holds true for Troy. The University has been good for Troy and jobs in Troy.”
He points to full employment in the construction and construction-related trades and the location of CGI with its 300-plus high-tech jobs.
“CGI will have multiple returns for Troy: enhancement of a dilapidated shopping center, internal growth where industry practices and class theory come together and jobs for both students and non-students alike,” he said.
University eyes growth in Phenix City
In 2008, Phenix City officials presented Troy University with a gift of nearly four acres of land for future development along the city’s riverfront.
The property is located along the river near the 14th Street Bridge.
City officials believe the University can help to transform the area and serve as an anchor for future riverfront development.
While no plans for the development of the property have been finalized, a building that would house the Sorrell College of Business programs along with various other educational opportunities the University offers is one consideration. The University would continue to maintain its current campus located off U.S. Highway 431 South, as well.
Troy University opened its Phenix City Campus in 1975.