The Western Carolina University Board of Trustees has endorsed a proposal to lease the 344-acre “millennial campus” tract purchased in 2005 to the university’s Endowment Fund, a move designed to enable WCU to respond rapidly and nimbly to potential public-private economic development opportunities.
The trustees’ recommendation would allow WCU to follow a strategic economic development model similar to what is in use at other University of North Carolina institutions, including N.C. State University for its Centennial Campus and UNC Charlotte for its Charlotte Research Initiative, where institutional endowment funds already owned tracts prior to their designation as “millennial campuses.”
Approval of the proposed plan to lease the property to the WCU Endowment Fund for a 99-year term for the sum of $1 came during the board’s regular quarterly meeting in December.
The Board of Trustees of the Endowment Fund, with membership appointed by and limited to members of WCU’s trustees, would assume oversight for developing the millennial tract in ways that enhance the university’s research, teaching and service missions and boost economic development in Western North Carolina.
“As we begin to enter into agreements with partners in the Millennial Initiative, this would provide us with the speed and flexibility we need to meet the expectations of potential partners who would like to develop projects with us,” said Joan MacNeill, chair of WCU’s Board of Trustees.
WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher said the proposed lease arrangement for the millennial property is comparable to the university’s existing Research and Development Corp., a nonprofit public-private partnership that has overseen the development of four residence halls at WCU since 2003. Private interests would develop the property and, at the end of the term of the ground lease agreement with the Endowment Fund, the property and all improvements would revert back to the university and the state.
The lease proposal approved by the WCU board also must be approved by the UNC Board of Governors, the governor and the Council of State.
The trustees’ endorsement of the proposal is in keeping with recommendations contained in a report issued in August by the Millennial Initiative Select Committee. In appointing the committee, Belcher tasked it with conducting a rigorous examination of the Millennial Initiative and designing a road map for how the regional economic and community development effort should move forward.
In its report, the committee recommended that the university “be mindful of the fact that any engagement with public-private partners has to be both nimble and quick, as the pace of private development exceeds that of the regular course of business in the academic world.”
The committee also recommended the appointment of “a strong and energetic leader” whose sole task would be to manage further development of the initiative, and urged the university to select only future private business and industry partners that are “a good fit for the university,” stressing the importance of faculty involvement in the initiative and linking WCU student learning to the activities of private partners.
The Millennial Campus Act passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2000 authorized the creation of “millennial campuses” by certain UNC system institutions, including WCU.
Western Carolina in February 2005 unveiled its Millennial Initiative, a comprehensive regional economic development strategy designed to enable the university to engage in public-private partnerships that enhance educational opportunities for students and increase the ability of faculty to conduct research, while also promoting regional development. As part of the initiative, the university acquired 344 acres of property adjacent to the main campus; that tract often is called the West Campus.
Western Carolina’s “millennial” plan is unique because the university has received approval from the UNC Board of Governors for parts of the existing campus to be designated as “millennial” in addition to the 344-acre tract.
The recently opened Health and Human Sciences Building is the first facility to be constructed on the West Campus. The building is designed to become the hub of a new health sciences cluster, which will expand collaborative opportunities with partners such as private clinics, medical device companies, and other health-related businesses. The partnerships will be intended to enhance hands-on student learning, foster collaborative research and promote development of scientific and technological innovations with potential commercial applications, and provide needed services to the community.
For more information, visit the website millennial.wcu.edu.