AU to acquire, re-purpose property in downtown Anderson, South Carolina
Almost two years after they acquired it, the owners of downtown Anderson’s historic court square property formerly known as the Chiquola Club are turning over the unique venue to one of their highest philanthropic priorities: Anderson University.
Plans for the acquisition were made public by the university June 24 following a vote by Anderson City Council in its regular monthly session. The city council voted to accommodate AU’s expansion into downtown Anderson with adequate parking for the foreseeable future.
In a gift-sale arrangement, local entrepreneurs and restaurateurs Hamid and K. D. Mohsenni will partially contribute and partially sell the property they acquired in August 2011 to AU, the selective, comprehensive university that has grown faster than any private university in South Carolina in the last decade. The university’s growth of 80 percent since 2002 is expected to advance even more to exceed 3,000 students this fall.
Over the next year, the university plans to transform the space into a multi-purpose center for the “study, practice, and celebration of the arts and entrepreneurship” as well as a venue for off-campus community collaboration and student social events. The space is expected to be ready for use for the fall semester of 2014 and will attract a daily influx of university students, faculty, staff, and guests. The upper floors of the building consist of privately owned condominiums.
The university’s property comprises the entire first floor of the Chiquola building including a row of four retail units on West Whitner Street, which were completely renovated in 2007 by private investors. The acquisition includes a catering kitchen, several large dining spaces, and four retail or office spaces.
The Mohsennis initially considered opening another restaurant in addition to Tucker’s and Carson’s, which they own and operate. After a period of reflection, they determined that Anderson University, a place they have loved and respected for over 20 years, could make it a stronger asset to the community.
Commenting on the acquisition, Hamid Mohsenni said, “Everything Anderson University has done over the last decade has strengthened our community. Anderson University’s enrollment has grown a lot, but along with that growth the academic quality of its students has increased as well. We know many AU students, and we’re more impressed by them with each passing year. K. D. and I are overjoyed with our decision. People in our community are talking about AU and how important it is to our city’s future. They know how fortunate we are to have an innovative, nationally recognized, top-ranked, private university in our community. And we want the university to get full credit for this. We’ve seen over and over what they can do, and we know they’ll turn the space into a jewel of our downtown. And we can count on them to keep it that way for future generations.”
The university’s president, Dr. Evans Whitaker, thanked the Mohsennis for their gift, saying “Hamid and K. D.’s strong belief in our mission and their willingness to support the University in this way makes it possible for us to realize a vision to have a greater presence and impact in the heart of our city. I can’t thank them enough.”
“The Mohsenni family is known widely in our community. Those who know them are aware that they love people and are dedicated to the advancement of our city, county, and region. They have huge hearts; they help others, and they’re making our community a better place. We’re thrilled that they love Anderson University and bless us with their friendship and support,” Dr. Whitaker said.
Dr. Whitaker also acknowledged that another partner was also instrumental in the deal: the City of Anderson. To facilitate the university’s expansion into downtown, Anderson City Council agreed to provide adequate and convenient parking to AU students, personnel, and guests in a combination of both ground and garage parking downtown. Parking downtown is free to the public and will be free to the University on a first-come, first-served basis. The city is also exploring the placement of attractive bicycle racks for student use.
Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts said, “We look forward to continuing to work with Anderson University. We value the distinct populations that the City and the AU students bring to downtown. It is common to see cities and universities look for collaborative efforts that are mutually beneficial. With the city’s infrastructure improvements made over the past decade, downtown’s vibrancy and attractiveness make it ripe for continued investment such as this opportunity with AU.”
President Whitaker expressed “deep gratitude” to Mayor Roberts, who upon being first elected Anderson’s mayor in 2006, encouraged the community to fully embrace and leverage its identity as a “university town.” Dr. Whitaker also thanked the citizen-based Downtown Advisory Committee for its support of the move.
“Thanks Mr. and Mrs. Mohsenni, Mayor Roberts, and the wonderful citizens of Anderson we are realizing the “university town” vision, and we hope to give the community even more reason to embrace and advance its “university town” identity in the years ahead. We believe what’s good for Anderson is good for AU, and what’s good for AU is good for Anderson,” Dr. Whitaker said.
Kip Miller of Greenville, South Carolina, an alumnus of the university and chairman of its Board of Trust, and John Hopkins of Simpsonville, chairman of the Board of Regents, joined Dr. Whitaker in thanking the Mohsennis for their gift. Miller and Hopkins also expressed gratitude to Mayor Roberts and the City of Anderson for their accommodation of the university to invest resources, energy, and people in downtown.
“This is a win-win situation if there ever was one,” Hopkins said. “Downtown will eventually see a far greater patronage of businesses by AU students and employees, and it will see a noticeable expansion of foot traffic and impact by young people. The entrepreneurial activities of students will extend far beyond downtown Anderson.”
Miller coined a new phrase when he added, “Without the pledge of the city to provide adequate and convenient parking to accommodate large numbers of students who will come to ‘Anderson University at the Chiquola,’ the university would have had to pass up this opportunity.”
Dr. Whitaker described the university’s tentative plans for future use of the former private dining club, saying that the unique layout, the size, and the strategic location of the property gives AU a chance to do something very special for the community as well as its students and faculty.
“The university has a vision and a default plan for the space, but we want to engage the community in a two-month period of open dialogue from July through August to see if there are other creative ideas about how the university might use the space,” Dr. Whitaker stressed.
“Many folks who love our community have great ideas and valuable historical perspectives. A property with the history and significance of the Chiquola is a treasure to our community, and we owe it to anyone who sincerely cares about its future to listen to any and all constructive ideas and possibilities they may have before we make final decisions,” Dr. Whitaker added.
Among the ideas President Whitaker and the university’s Board of Trust and Board of Regents are presently considering are as follows:
1. The extension of the school’s growing, nationally recognized degree program in graphic design to include the use of two small, private dining rooms for graphic design studios.
2. The creation of a Center for the Advancement of Entrepreneurship to be advised by a Board of Overseers made up of experienced entrepreneurs. The Center would facilitate start-up businesses developed by AU undergraduates and MBA students that could be moved after a period of initial incubation and continued by students upon graduation. Three of the retail units facing West Whitner Street are being reserved for this purpose, while one will be reserved for a yet undetermined partner organization.
3. The extension of occasional student activities to downtown on limited weeknights and weekends: Possible activities would be coffee house events with live student entertainment, and formal dances during occasions such as homecoming. A large, multi-level, hardwood dining and gathering space with a separate entry off Main Street could serve that purpose.
4. The same space used for occasional student activities could also be used for community events such as catered dinners, receptions, poetry readings, art exhibitions, and small university-sponsored dinner concerts open to the public, featuring university and visiting artists.
5. The university envisions a new, signature performance ensemble called the Chiquola Camerata Musicale, a mixture of AU faculty and students that would perform chamber music for small dinner audiences several times annually.
6. Cooperative events with other downtown organizations such as the Anderson County Arts Center, civic clubs, downtown businesses, churches, city and county entities, and its close educational partner, Tri-County Technical College.
7. Availability permitting, private receptions, dinners, and parties for community organizations and citizens.
The university engaged DP3 Architects of Greenville to conduct a thorough inspection of the property by architects and engineers in advance of its decision. The report revealed minor issues involving cosmetics and dormant mechanical systems, but no structural issues.
The university invites constructive suggestions, ideas, and comments through August 31. They can be emailed to President@andersonuniversity.edu. Letters can be mailed to the Office of the President, Anderson University, 316 Boulevard, Anderson, SC 29621. Names and contact information of those making suggestions is requested for possible follow-up and dialogue.