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Marshall board approves moving visual arts center downtown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Setting up shop in a historic building in downtown Huntington should be beneficial for Marshall University, the city and the local economy, said Marshall President Stephen Kopp.

The university plans to move its College of Fine Arts Visual Arts Center to the former Stone & Thomas building, located on 3rd Avenue across the street from Pullman Square.

"We feel very strongly the buildings in that area need to be a showpiece for the city," Kopp said Friday in a phone interview.

"When you look at the fact that hundreds of Marshall University students are going to be located and taking class down there . . . it brings a lot of foot traffic to the downtown areas," he continued.

Last week, the board of governors voted to award Huntington-based Neighborgall Construction the contract for the project. Its roughly $10.9 million base bid was the least expensive of the seven companies vying for the project.

The currently vacant, seven-story building is slated to cater to more than just students when it opens 14 months from now. The bottom floor will serve as a "front porch" of sorts, said Matt Turner, Kopp's chief of staff: The gallery space in this area will give students and local artists the chance to display their work and interact.

There will be traditional classrooms, labs and more on the remaining floors, he said.

"The arts center offers an invigorating place accessible to our entire region - a community hungry for cultural expression, enrichment, and pertinent dialogue that engages its citizenry," Turner said in an email.

Kopp sees great potential with the project, for his university and the community.

The building is expected to hold 400 to 500 students plus however many faculty are needed, Kopp said. That's great for Marshall because right now, its current digs on campus are too crowded to accommodate any more visual arts majors, Kopp said.

Kopp said he didn't know the program's current enrollment but expected that number to double within five years of moving to the downtown location.

The city of Huntington and the local business community are very excited about the project, Kopp said. Huntington is providing $400,000 toward the renovations, and there are several businesses asking about partnerships. Kopp said it was too early to announce what businesses have expressed interest, but he is confident the programs will create a positive link between students and the professional community.

Art-based projects located in the hearts of cities have helped jumpstart revitalization efforts across the country, and Kopp is optimistic this project could have a similar effect on the continued growth of Huntington.

"It creates very well-defined connection between the university and the downtown community," Kopp said. "And importantly, the location in the Pullman Square area is one of the marquee locations in the downtown area."

The university bought the building in August 2010 for $750,000, Turner said. The project is expected to cost roughly $13 million. That's about $800,000 more than the estimates made when the project was designed two years ago, but Kopp said it won't impede progress.

In November 2011, the university issued $9 million worth of revenue bonds. Marshall was already in the process of retiring other bonds, so the university can use traditional revenue streams like tuition to refund these bonds, Turner said.

Private donations will cover the rest. Kopp is confident the fundraising won't be an issue.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or Follow him at ;;;


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