West Texas A&M University currently occupies nearly 42,000 square feet in downtown Amarillo, but in less than 24 months it plans to double that plus some.
"The Amarillo Economic Development Corporation purchased the building (Commerce Building)," WTAMU Vice President of Institutional Advancement Neal Weaver said. "They will be managing the construction, and once they've completed all the work, they will then gift the building to the university."
WTAMU plans to have students in by the 2016 fall semester. Officials are calling it a "permanent footprint" in the Amarillo community.
"It's not that our commitment to Amarillo hasn't been serious, it's just that as a renter in the Chase Tower, at any moment we could pull out and say, 'We just don't see this as viable anymore,' but the opposite of that is true we see this as incredibly viable," Weaver said.
Amarillo City Manager, Jarrett Atkinson, said there has always been a plan in the long term revitalization of downtown to include higher education.
"I think the project that's upcoming is meant to put them into a permanent home, and we're trying to make sure they're able to stay in downtown," Atkinson said.
WTAMU currently offers anywhere from 40-50 courses each semester in Amarillo, serving about 1,000 students. Once the Commerce Building is completely renovated and ready for students, officials say they don't just plan to offer courses, they plan to offer degrees.
"We will bring over entire degree courses that will allow us to grow significantly the number of students that we're serving, but also to be very direct on how we impact the market place," Weaver said.
According to WTAMU officials, phase one is being funded by private money, ??We're working with the Economical Development Corporation, the Area Foundation, and the Harrington Foundation."
Weaver said the university will not put forth any money toward the construction phase of the project, but that it will be responsible for maintaining the building for years to come, and that money will come from students?? tuition. Phase one is expected to cost nearly $12 million.