On the Alabama bank of the Chattahoochee River, just across from the TSYS campus, a 14-foot sculpture of a Trojan warrior, spear in hand, was erected last week.
It stands behind the new $10.8 million Troy University campus in Phenix City. But it also stands between a public housing complex and the 14th Street pedestrian bridge and serves as a monument to the city's riverfront renewal that is being erected with a blend of public and private funds.
Phenix City has nearly $5 million invested in the Troy University project.
In December 2008, the city gifted the land to the university at a price tag of $2.95 million. The city acquired the property from the Phenix City Housing Authority.
The city then gave Troy an additional $2 million toward construction in 2012. The first phase of the project is near completion and classes will begin in early August.
David White, a retired U.S. Army colonel who is vice chancellor of Troy's Phenix City campus, said the building is part of a larger plan.
"All of the city planning studies showed if they could anchor revitalization on this location with a university complex, then other revitalization would follow," White said.
And it is happening as planned.
"The chancellor announces in January 2012 that Troy is going to build the building here," White said. "We do a ground breaking in April 2012. Within six weeks, the RAM Hotels group announces its plans to build a hotel here. Within about eight weeks after that, W.C. Bradley announces that it has purchased the shopping center. Six to eight months after that, W.C. Bradley bought this last small piece between the 13th and 14th street bridges."
But the investment has come with a price, though it is worth it, said Mayor Eddie Lowe. The city has invested heavily in the Alabama riverfront. In addition to the $4.9 million in funds and land it gave to Troy, the city is turning Fifth Avenue into Whitewater Avenue at a cost of $2.9 million; it has also spent $3.7 million on a parking garage and landscaping and $500,000 on the Chattahoochee whitewater course. The parking deck will serve Troy and the new $12 million Courtyard Marriott located just north of the 14th Street bridge.
Lowe said the Troy campus was a critical piece to the plan.
"When you look at everything that has taken place and everything that will take place, Troy was the catalyst," he said.
Troy and the city have established a partnership, Lowe said.
"When it works the way it should, it is all about partnerships," he said. "The issue of victory is not trying, but trusting. There is a partnership here and a trust between the city and Troy. And what is happening is best for Phenix City."
A lot of partnerships made the riverfront campus possible, White said.
There was $4.5 million in private funds from foundations and individuals, White said. Contributors included: Phenix City Realtor Mike Bowden, land appraised at $640,000; The Daniel Foundation from Montgomery, Ala., $600,000; W.C. Bradley Company, $500,000; TSYS, $250,000; Alabama Power Company, $250,000; Mead Westvaco, $200,000; and Mildred Miller Fort Foundation, $100,000.
Making a statement
And the four-story Troy building makes a statement. In the next five years, the statement will be more profound when the second phase is completed. Wings will be built on either end of the current building, allowing Troy to move its entire Phenix City operation to the riverfront. That phase is expected to cost about $5 million, White said. Troy's Phenix City campus has been located on U.S. 431 South on the Chattahoochee Valley Community College campus for four decades.
"Eventually, we will move from a five-building, 30-acre campus to a one-building, 3-acre campus," White said. "And we will have more square footage."
Troy University will also be far more visible.
"You can't come downtown on either side of this river and see this building and not ask the simple question, 'What is that?'" White said.
It becomes a four-story billboard for the Troy educational programs that will target adult students working on undergraduate and graduate degrees.
"It is a billboard, whether I am looking at it that way or not," White said. "At our current campus, we are in the community, but we are invisible -- certainly from this area. Now, we are absolutely visible. You can be top of mind, literally, every day if you are on that side of the river looking across."
It also puts Troy in more direct competition with Columbus State University, which has a downtown campus in addition to a main campus near Peachtree Mall. CSU has more than 8,000 students, while Troy-Phenix City has about 1,000.
Initially, the School of Business, the College of Health and Human Services, which includes the nursing school and hospitality programs, will be located in the new building. Troy will offer a master's degree in social work and a doctorate of nursing practice. Most of the classes will be at night and on weekends.
"It is easy to sell Troy on the Alabama side of the river," White said. "It is tougher to sell it on the Columbus side of the river because Columbus State is highly respected. It is a great organization and they are the home team. Just like on this side of the river, the notion is if you are going to go to college, go to Troy. On the Columbus side, the notion is the same way. And Columbus has by far the larger demographic."
Retired CSU President Frank Brown is impressed with what Troy has constructed.
"I think the design and appearance of the new academic building, which Troy and the community have built, will be a shining star for education," he said. "It remains to be seen if the courses offered will support the grand design. I really hope it will and we will see grand things and an educated populace that we might not see otherwise."
The building makes the intended statement, said Bowden, who donated a tract of land that helped make the project possible.
"To me, the bigger picture is not Phenix City," said the 67-year-old who is a lifelong Phenix City resident. "What does this do for the Chattahoochee Valley? What does it do to the life blood of this Bi-City community? And that life blood is the river. The Indians were here thousands of years ago because of that river. Columbus was founded in 1828 because of the river. Now, John Turner and his family have seen a vision and it involves the river. This is truly an exciting time to live in Phenix City."
Bowden likes the fact that educational institutions sit on either side of the river, framing both downtowns.
"You now have Columbus State and Troy as the bookends," he said. "The fruits of what will come out of this will be amazing. Who knows what will happen? What Troy has done is nothing but positive. It supplies an educational need and makes a financial statement that people believe in the Alabama side of river."
And it makes Troy a bigger player in the community, White said.
"In this community you have to be a partner," he said. "I think you are silly if you believe you can make it by yourself. The great thing about this community is we partner well. And we are a good team. Although we compete with one another, that is normal; in the end it is community first. I think we are a good fit with Columbus State because we focus almost primarily on the adult student."