ANDERSON UNIVERSITY WILL ACQUIRE ANDERSON COUNTY FAIRGROUNDS
Anderson University announced today at a special gathering of students, faculty, staff, and University friends that it has struck a deal with the Anderson County Fair Inc. to acquire the Anderson County Fairgrounds, a mostly flat, 45-acre tract the school has eyed for the last decade. In addition, the University will acquire approximately 33 contiguous acres owned by the Anderson County Fair.
In making the announcement, University President Dr. Evans P. Whitaker said, “Anderson University’s landlocked history is behind it. The acquisition of these roughly 78 acres ensures the school can expand its facilities and amenities in keeping with its vision of being a premier comprehensive University. Today, our hearts soar with excitement. The entire campus is elated.”
The main campus is already a tight fit for the soccer and softball programs, which share the same field. The school presently uses the City of Anderson’s Memorial Stadium for its baseball program. The Fairgrounds opens up numerous opportunities for the enhancement of AU athletic programs.
Specific plans for the property are not solidified, but Whitaker says he has already engaged professional counsel to help determine the best use for the property and develop a long-range vision. At present, it seems clear to the school’s administration and Board of Trust that the most logical use of the Fairgrounds property is for the expansion of athletic and student recreation facilities including playing and practice fields for a number of sports. Whitaker envisions short-term additions of soccer and lacrosse fields, a track, and the conversion of space within one of the six buildings on the property to a practice facility for wrestling. Longer-term, the school may consider adding its own baseball stadium and the revival of its equestrian program.
“Netting the Fairgrounds property has been a goal for many years and has been viewed as a deal that simply had to happen eventually,” said John Kunst, vice president for finance and administration. “Dr. Whitaker and the trustees have aggressively pursued it since Dr. Whitaker’s arrival in 2002,” he added.
The fairgrounds property is valuable to the University as it practically joins the eastern border of the Stringer Commons quadrant of the campus.
“Very few established institutions have the opportunity to acquire this much acreage contiguous to their main campuses,” said Hugh Durham, a real estate professional and member of the University’s Board of Trust. “It’s an opportunity we could not pass up,” he added.
School officials indicated they have passed up numerous opportunities over the years to purchase homes contiguous to the main campus in view of one day acquiring the fairgrounds and eliminating the institution’s demand for costly neighborhood properties.
“Economically, the fairgrounds acquisition makes sense to us over the long run,” said Tom Thrift, vice chairman of the Anderson University Board of Trust.
Dr. James Lusk, chairman of the Anderson University trustees, agreed. “The only other option would have been for the school to buy up homes in the neighborhood—one at a time—over a period of who knows how long. In that kind of scenario, the University isn’t typically interested long-term in anything but the land, but it has to pay for the structures too, of course. It took us almost a hundred years to go from 32 acres to 68 acres on the main campus, and we just couldn’t wait another one hundred years,” he said.
The University and the Anderson County Fair Inc. entered into serious negotiations over the property last fall, but the deal came together officially only within recent weeks. Whitaker praised Strates Shows president James E. Strates, his son E. Jay Strates, and other family members for their agreement to sell the property, saying, “The Strates Family appreciates the positive impact Anderson University has on society. When they decided the time was right to sell, it was clear to them the University was their best potential buyer, but it was also clear to them that it was only appropriate for the University to have the property.”
The property adjoins the 125-acre tract of property given to the University by Andersonians John and Marie Pracht earlier this year. When the acquisition of the fairgrounds property is complete in spring 2009, the campus will have grown from roughly 68 acres to 271 acres in less than a year.