After more than 150 folks filled the gleaming lobby and the jazz band finished its festive music, Troy University vice chancellor David White opened Friday's ceremony to dedicate the new Phenix City campus by declaring, "This is a great day for the tri-community."
Then he asked a few questions, which probably everyone in attendance could answer.
"Don't things look different than they did two years ago? Who would have thought we could do it? Many didn't think so, and it didn't happen quickly," White said. "The community first approached the university 11 years ago with the idea of a Troy presence on the Phenix City riverfront. Think about how things have changed in 11 years, how things have changed on Fort Benning, in Columbus and in Phenix City. Even our river has changed."
The key factor in making this project possible, White said, was having "great partners, a true public-private partnership. Find the right partners, and you can do anything. In fact, with the right partners, you can do this."
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The $10.8 million project produced a modern, four-story facility with 44,000 square feet for higher education on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River, overlooking the final rapids of the 2.5-mile world's longest urban whitewater course.
In December 2008, Phenix City donated to Troy land valued at $2.95 million after acquiring it from the Phenix City Housing Authority. The city also gave the university $2 million in 2012 to help pay for the campus construction.
Additional gifts totaled $4.5 million in private contributions, White told the Ledger-Enquirer last month, including: Phenix City Realtor Mike Bowden, land appraised at $640,000; The Daniel Foundation from Montgomery, Ala., $600,000; W.C. Bradley Co., $500,000; TSYS, $250,000; Alabama Power Co., $250,000; Mead Westvaco, $200,000; and Mildred Miller Fort Foundation, $100,000.
All of which developed what Phenix City mayor pro tem and at-large councilor Chris Blackshear called the backbone of the riverfront's transformation, which comprises a new hotel, a parking deck, streetscape projects and the future revitalization of a shopping plaza.
"There's a big difference between a vision and an idea," said Blackshear, speaking in place of Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe, who was on vacation. "Ideas come and go, but vision comes with hard work and dedication but, more importantly, a belief. Over the last 11 years, there has been a belief in this community and through this university that what's happening today would come to fruition.
"I can promise you, there were a lot of people that didn't want to see this through here today. But I'm a firm believer that, just like in education, you have to have a firm foundation, you have to have a backbone, and you have to be able to see what's next."
Larry Hughes, chairman of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, summed up what he saw at the new facility this way: "Absolutely awesome. It's very beautiful and I think a very unique setting for a college campus."
State Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, also acknowledged the building's beauty, but he noted he is more interested in what will happen inside the building.
"The image in years past of what Phenix City projected was not what the people wanted to project," said Dial, president pro tem of the Troy University Board of Trustees. "So I'm proud, I'm proud today that Troy University joined with the city fathers, the people of this region, to change this image, to make a new day for Phenix City."
Troy chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr. recalled the 2006 gathering to announce the project.
"We challenged everyone to envision what might be," he said. "I remember then using some comments made by Thoreau, when he said, 'It's not what you're looking at; it's what you see that counts.' When you look at the transformation of this riverbank in the last few years, you think of what can be, and that's what really excites all of us."
This is the first phase of Troy's grand plan to move its entire Phenix City operation for approximately 1,000 students from U.S. 431 South, where it has shared a campus with Chattahoochee Valley Community College for 40 years. Now, it's one of Troy's more than 60 teaching sites in 17 states and 11 countries.
The new building contains programs from the Sorrell College of Business and the College of Health and Human Services, along with the Center for Water Resource Economics and the Center for Risk Management and Insurance. Most of the classes will be conducted at nights and on the weekends because Troy-Phenix City focuses on nontraditional college students who already have jobs or are making a midcareer transition.
In the next five years, after wings are constructed on both ends of the riverfront facility, doubling its size to 88,000 square feet, White told the Ledger-Enquirer last month, "we will move from a five-building, 30-acre campus to a one-building, 3-acre campus, and we will have more square footage."
McKee & Associates of Montgomery designed the project and Bear Brothers Construction of Montgomery built it.
Staff writer Chuck Williams contributed to this report.