Brenau leases Georgia Mountains Center for proposed graduate health professional programs

Brenau University and the Gainesville Redevelopment Authority today executed a 10-year lease for the city-owned Georgia Mountains Center as a site for Brenau’s proposed expansion of its professional health care graduate programs.

The lease, signed on behalf of the university by President Ed L. Schrader and Brenau Trustee James A. “Jim” Walters, is renewable each decade for up to 50 years.

Brenau, however, will not take possession of the building until university trustees approve plans for the new academic programs that will be housed there as well as budgets for start-up costs for renovations and improvements to the building. Under terms of the lease, Brenau has until the end of 2012 for that to happen. The city will continue operating the facility until Brenau takes possession.

(Click to enlarge) Georgia Mountains Center is a multi-purpose facility located just off the square in downtown Gainesville, Georgia.

The new arrangement does nothing to alter long-standing arrangements the Mountains Center has with community groups, like the Georgia Mountains Players theatrical group, or any bookings for the facility through 2012. Brenau has the option to review requests for bookings for 2013 and beyond and, in fact, is exploring ideas for more Mountains Center engagement by community groups like the John Jarrard Foundation, which already partners with Brenau for musical performances.

“This agreement reflects the best of public-private partnerships in creative, collaborative problem solving with all parties sharing costs and all parties reaping significant benefits,” Schrader said. “The city government needed a way eliminate some $400,000 a year in operational losses for the Mountains Center. Brenau needed a place in Gainesville for expansion of graduate programs. And the community needed a way for the Mountains Center to spur economic development while remaining a vital community use asset.”

Built primarily as a convention, trade show, exhibition and entertainment venue, the Mountains Center now figures significantly in Brenau’s long-term plans to expand graduate-level programs leading to masters degrees and doctorates in the health care and rehabilitative services professional disciplines like physical therapy, pharmacy and physician assistant preparation.

(Click to enlarge) The projected new look of the Georgia Mountains Center as part of Brenau University (artist’s rendering)

Initial estimates project that the programs Brenau envisions for the Mountains Center will result in $40 million a year in direct economic impact, including creation of between 50 and 100 administrative and faculty positions. Many of the new employees would hold doctorates and other advanced professional degrees in high-paying faculty positions. The university also projects that the new programs within eight years could bring in between 400 and 700 students, most of them seeking advanced degrees.

The city investment in the lease includes waiver of the $10,000 per month rent for the first five years plus continuing responsibility for exterior maintenance over the term of the lease. Brenau’s investment would be an estimated $7 million total – $2 million and $3 million for capital renovation and remodeling; a similar amount for equipment and technology upgrades required for high-level health-related graduate programs and research; and the balance in ramp-up costs for new faculty and staff.

Schrader said that it will be at least two years before the Mountains Center could see its first students for the new programs, all of which will be subject to trustee approval and accreditation by various academic and professional credentialing authorities. An administrative team is completing a due diligence study. It plans to present that to the Board of Trustees as early as the next scheduled meeting on March 30.

Brenau currently enrolls 2,800 students, 960 of whom are in graduate programs. About 40.4 percent of the graduate students are enrolled in health-related master’s degree programs: nursing, occupational therapy, clinical psychology, physician assistant, applied gerontology and health services administration. Schrader said the university envisions doubling its enrollment by 2025 with at least half, about 2,500, seeking advanced degrees, and the health services preparation will be a major contributor.

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