GREENVILLE - A $1 million gift from ScanSource Inc. paved the way for Clemson University to move its master's of business administration program to downtown Greenville beginning in January, the university said Friday.
Clemson said it plans to move its MBA program, most of whose 270 students study at the University Center on Pleasantburg Drive, to the downtown office building next to Liberty Bridge that once housed papermaker Bowater Inc.'s headquarters.
The university also plans to put a professional and continuing education program there, as well as support programs for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Clemson president Jim Barker said the move will expose MBA students to a vibrant business culture not available on a traditional university campus.
"Many top-ranked business schools have relocated their MBA programs into energetic urban environments for this same reason," Barker said.
He said Greenville's downtown is "one of America's finest, and we are glad to be a part of it."
The move is scheduled to take effect in January, provided Clemson gets approvals from the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, the Joint Bond Review Committee and the State Budget and Control Board in December.
Joining Barker for the announcement in the building's lobby were Greenville Mayor Knox White and Greenville lawyer David Wilkins, the former speaker of the S.C. House and U.S. ambassador to Canada who is chairman of the Clemson board of trustees.
"This is a big day for Clemson, and I believe a big day for Greenville," Wilkins said.
White said the move will help make downtown a "serious center of commerce" and "gives the city something we've wanted for a long time in our downtown mix, and that is higher education."
Claude Lilly, dean of Clemson's College of Business and Behavioral Science, said the move frees up space on the school's main campus and puts MBA students and faculty in the middle of a business community.
"And frankly we have a lot of young faculty that like the city environment, will live over here in Greenville, and their spouses will have better job opportunities," Lilly said. "There are a lot of wins for us."
He said about 180 MBA students are working professionals who take classes at the University Center; about 90 others are full-time students at Clemson's main campus in Clemson. About 20 professors will be based at the downtown location, Lilly said.
The plans call for Clemson's research foundation to lease a floor and a half in the office building - 33,355 square feet - for a decade and to sublease the space to the university. The foundation also has an option to buy the 98,000-square-foot building from Camperdown Falls LP, whose principals include Easlan Capital Inc. of Greenville, Lilly said.
The trustees voted to approve the deal during a special 3 p.m. meeting in the local office of the Nexsen Pruet law firm, which is in the building that will house the MBA program.
Moving, in addition to the MBA program, will be: Clemson's Renaissance Center; Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership; Small Business Development Center; and Professional Advancement and Continuing Education program.
Mike Baur, ScanSource's chief executive, said the $1 million gift was a long-term decision for the Greenville-based distributor of technology products.
"We've been in Greenville for 17 years, and we believe we'll be here a lot longer than that. So for us, it was a good business decision."
Baur said more than 60 of the 450 people ScanSource employs locally are Clemson graduates.
Under the terms of the deal, the research foundation would make more than $1.5 million in lease payments over the decade, Clemson spokeswoman Robin Denny said. It also has the right to buy the building for appraised value, with the minimum price being the current mortgage of $7 million, if it exercises the right by the end of 2017, Denny said.
She said the university will sublease the space from the research foundation and reduce its costs by leveraging private gifts and generated revenue.