In a reversal of its downtown campus plans, the Tarrant County College District on Wednesday paid $238 million for RadioShack’s four-building riverfront office complex a few blocks west of where the college is a year into construction on the first phase of a campus that would have taken 15 years to finish.
TCC will gain immediate control of two the RadioShack buildings where it will start $40 million in renovations for 51 classrooms so classes can begin for the fall semester of 2009, the college said.
TCC will move all the educational programs planned for the downtown campus, on the bluff next to the Tarrant County Courthouse, to the RadioShack property at Belknap and Taylor streets. It will scale back its plans at the bluff site and build only four buildings to house the district’s administration offices, distance learning services, continuing education classes and a conference center.
TCC Chancellor Leonardo de le Garza said the continued uncertainty about the costs to complete the downtown campus played a role in the board’s decision to buy the RadioShack buildings, which he said are bigger and better than anything the college could have built.
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“This gives us certainty of cost,” de la Garza said. "By purchasing the Radio Shack property, we have more space for our growing student and faculty populations, we have better facilities, we can open a downtown Fort Worth campus quicker and our new campus will bring us cost certainty."
College officials will be meeting with architect Bing Thom and engineers and architects with Gideon Toal firm in Fort Worth to determine the changes that will made at the bluff site.
Two buildings are under construction and two others will be completed. Construction crews have tunneled under Belknap Street, but it is unlikely that the college will build the controversial sunken plaza that would have guided pedestrians down to the river front.
“We’re not crossing the river,” de la Garza said. “We do not see a bridge.”
TCC Trustee Randall Canedy said uncertainty in costs in the construction industry played a role in the board’s decision. Recent flooding in the Midwest are sure to raise materials costs in the coming years at the project, he said.
In May 2007, the board approved a $63.5 million increase to build the campus, bringing costs to $297.5 million for the first phase. It also scaled back the scope of the campus. The college was also dealing with delays resulting from reviews required by the Army Corps of Engineers to be able to build on the river levee.
“Who knows what’s going to happens to costs,” Canedy said. “It seemed like every time we turned around, there was another obstacle.”
Trustee Robert McGee said the negotiations for the property were closely held. He described the deal as a “great bargain.”
“You couldn’t replicate this,” McGee said. “You have a great use for a million square feet of space.”
David Wells, the vice chancellor for operations and planning services, who is overseeing the downtown campus, said he told the Fort Worth office of the Army Corps Wednesday morning that the college was halting its plans to build on the levee.
Corps spokesman Clay Church said some of the documents as a part of the college’s application will be stored.
TCC began looking at a possible deal for the RadioShack property about nine months ago, but negotiations became very serioius about 90 days ago. RadioShack and KanAm Grun, a German real estate fund that owns the buildings, signed contracts Tuesday. The deal was approved by TCC trustees early Wednesday morning.
Under the deal, RadioShack paid $2.25 million of the $238 million price tag, turned over 14 acres of surrounding land to TCC and will leave fixtures and furnishings, including RadioShack’s art collection, in the building. TCC is in the process of obtaining an inventory list of those items and its value.
In exchange, RadioShack will remain in two buildings rent-free for three years. At that time, it has the option to rent at market prices one building for two years.
Julian Day, RadioShack’s chief executive, said the deal allows the company to greatly reduce its costs in the building. It has been attempting to sublease some of the space for more than a year.
"We’re pleased the 500,000 square feet of space we were either not using or underutilizing will help a leading Tarrant County educational institution create a positive new dimension for the downtown business community," Day said in the federal filing.
TCC also gains control of the mineral rights under the 35-acre site, which have not been yet leased by a energy company. RadioShack had retained the mineral rights when it sold the buildings to the German real estate firm.
TCC had planned spending $297.5 million on the first phase of the campus at the bluff site. It will now only spend $170 million to complete the property that will total 148,000 square feet of space. It has spent $77 million at the site.
Coupled with the price of the RadioShack property and the $80 million it will spend in renovations, TCC will spend $488 million on a downtown campus that it has planned for years. It began collecting a tax in 2002 for the construction.
De la Garza said it is likely he will recommend to the trustees that the college district sell the property on the north side of the river, which totals about 47 acres. It is likely it will sell two downtown city blocks that were to be a part of the campus. It will sell the 2-story, 40,000-square-foot May Owen Center at 14th and Throckmorton streets, where its district offices have been since March 1983.
If the college stuck with its plans for the campus at the bluff, when completed it would have been about 750,000 square feet of space. At RadioShack, TCC will eventually gain control of about 929,000 square feet of space and a parking garage with 2,300 spaces.
RadioShack opened opened its $200 million campus in March 2005, but by December sold the campus to KanAm Grun Kapitalanlagegescellschaft for $222 million and began a sublease that keep the electronics retailer in there for 20 years. In June 2007, it put the East Fork building, one of three six-story structures, up for lease, but the property didn’t attract takers. TCC did look at the building in December 2006.
TCC unveiled its downtown campus plans in October 2004. It was forced to push back an opening date to 2010.
Jacobs Carter Burgess is working the TCC on the RadioShack renovations.
RadioShack bought the 50-year-old Ripley Arnold public housing complex in 2001 to build its headquarters.
Staff writer John Austin contributed to this report
SANDRA BAKER, 817-390-7727 WHAT WILL BE OFFERED AT THE NEW CAMPUS?
The campus will now be a full, comprehensive community college, offering core courses, developmental studies and courses in English for speakers of other lanaguages, and the new Associate of Arts in Teaching. A business program and selected information technology and computer science courses will be offered.Career and employment programs will include health information technology, long-term care, physical therapist assistant, radiological technology, respiratory care, sign language interpreting and surgical technology. A health and wellness center for physical education transfer requirements and continuing education programming will be offered.
Sandra Baker, (817) 390-7725