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Wingate plans nursing, physical therapy degrees in new building

In a rare joint meeting, the county Board of Commissioners and Hendersonville City Council voted for a five-party agreement for a health sciences building at Pardee's campus. In a rare joint meeting, the county Board of Commissioners and Hendersonville City Council voted for a five-party agreement for a health sciences building at Pardee's campus.

Henderson County and the city of Hendersonville have agreed to buy an acre of land and build a $16 million health sciences building for use by Wingate University, which plans to add a nursing school and a physical therapy program to its current curriculum at its Hendersonville campus. Pardee and Blue Ridge Community College are also partners in the agreement, commiting to use space in the building as well.


In a five-party agreement that leaders hailed as a "game changer" for the local economy, a boon to training opportunities in the health sciences and an unprecedented model of inter-government cooperation, commissioners, City Council members, BRCC, Pardee and Wingate officials set in motion a plan that will result in a large new building abuzz with students, faculty, doctors and other health professionals. The plans were announced today.

After convening a joint meeting at 10 a.m., elected leaders from the city and county boards acted quickly and with no discussion to adopt the agreement under which the city will buy and clear the land and the county will build the building on the one-acre lot on Sixth Avenue West at Oak Street across from the YMCA. Wingate will sign a 20-year lease, Pardee will lease 25,000 square feet to deliver services that may include primary care, rehabilitation and physical therapy and BRCC will move its allied health classes into the building.

"This is a game changer," Wyatt said. "This will not only impact Henderson County, the city of Hendersonville for years to come but all of Western North Carolina and the economy of this part of the state. It was not easy to do. John Connet's a very tough negotiator. But when the city hired John it opened up some real opportunities. He's been very good to work with."

A study by a consultant projected a Wingate expansion to an enrollment of 250 would result in an annual positive economic impact of $18 million a year. The study, conducted for the Partnership for Economic Development, examined the economic benefit of UNC Asheville and East Carolina University and applied a percentage of that impact to Wingate in Hendersonville.
The announcement drew a crowd of 80 people to the Board of Commissioners meeting room in the Historic Courthouse, including members of the boards of Pardee and BRCC and Wingate president Jerry McGee.

The so-called Project Touchdown was a cooperative effort of the city and county to find a permanent home for Wingate that would enable the college to expand its programs in Hendersonville. Wingate would lease 30,000 square feet of the building for its existing MBA, pharmacy and physician assistant degree programs and for planned additions of a four-year nursing degree program and a physical therapy program. Within five years, McGee said, Wingate's enrollment in Hendersonville will likely from about 80 to more than 200.

Under the five-party agreement:

  • The city of Hendersonville will buy the .92-acre parcel at 647 Sixth Avenue West for $650,000 and clear the house and a cottage that is currently on the lot.
  • Using the city's ownership of the land as collateral, Henderson County will take out a loan and build the 60,000-square-foot building. Projected cost of construction is $16.2 million. An architect retained by the county will design the building with input from the county, BRCC, Wingate and Pardee. The agreement calls for completion by December 2015 and occupancy by the colleges the following month.
  • BRCC committed to moving its health sciences courses to the building in January 2016. Wingate would move its current courses and any additional health degree programs to the building at the same time. Wingate pays rent; BRCC does not. "So long as there is adequate space in the building, all of Wingate's health professional education programs and services offered within Henderson, Buncombe, Transylvania and Polk counties shall be located in the building," the agreement says.
  • Pardee committed to giving priority to Wingate and BRCC students when it fills student clinical vacancies. The hospital also committed to provide 100 parking spaces for use by Wingate and BRCC faculty and staff. Pardee committed to lease 25,000 square feet of space at a fair market rate, and has the right to lease space not needed by either college on a year-to-year basis.

The three bodies worked together to find a home for Wingate, whose president, Dr. Jerry McGee, officiated more than 400 college football games over 36 years, including three games that determined the major-college championship.

"If you look at the fact we're one of the fastest growing counties in the state, growing faster than anybody in Western North Carolina," Pardee CEO Jay Kirby said. "No. 2, the P.A. program will help us expand access. Having facilities and the technology available and have the men and women to meet the growing demands right in Hendersonville is tremendous."

The announcement on Friday culminated five months of behind-the-scenes work and sensitive negotiations among officials from the city, county, Pardee, Wingate and Blue Ridge Community College. The City Council and Board of Commissioners had discussed the courtship of Wingate in closed-door sessions but not openly until Friday.

Commissioner Larry Young recalled meeting with McGee when Wingate first looked at starting a Hendersonville campus.


"We started out with a very small campus over here on King Street and he said this was going to be big," Young said. "I didn't realize it would be this quick. I figured it would be a few years down the road. We're at the point now that it's going to be a great thing for Henderson County. Our young people are going to appreciate it farther down the road than we'll ever know."
Commissioner Michael Edney praised the spirit of cooperation — which has been rare between the city and county — that led to Friday's announcement.
"I think this is a great example of how we can work together and the relationships we are building with each other," he said. "I thank you guys for that, and that goes with the college and the hospital. You don't see that many turf people working together as well as this has come through. People put their egos at the door and made it happen."
Commissioner Tommy Thompson added: "This was not an endeavor that these people inside the railing put together. This was a massive massive undertaking and collaboration. Henderson County is not that little county of 35,000 people that I remember from the days when I first got into public service ... This is something that we can all be proud of ... and someone in your family, someone in your family is going to take advantage of it somewhere down the road, be it the hospital or one of the two colleges or something. Every one of you is going to be affected by this."

Maor Barbara Volk and Hendersonville City Manager John Connet said they did not expect the land purchase to require a tax increase. The $650,000 purchase will be on a cash basis, not borrowed, and will come from the city's reserves, which currently total $6.4 million.

"That's one reason you have a healthy fund balance," Connet said. "So when something comes up you have the cash to take action."

The Hendersonville City Council had hoped to keep Wingate in the city limits with a proposal to redevelop the Grey Hosiery Mill for use by the college. The proposal fizzled in October when Wingate turned down the developer's pitch. A month later the Board of Commissioners directed the county staff to pursue a home for the university, possibly at Blue Ridge Community College.
But county officials knew that the city still wanted to keep Wingate in Hendersonville and allowed the City Council and City Manager John Connet time to pursuit a partnership with Pardee.


Sale under contract
The owners of a house at 747 Sixth Avenue West confirmed in interviews with the Hendersonville Lightning that the city has a contract to buy the one-acre property, although the transaction has not formally closed. It is scheduled to close in June, the family members said.
"I had heard from our Realtor that it was actually the city of Hendersonville that has bought it," said Susan McCall, whose husband, Carroll, is executor of the family estate that owns the property. "I think I understood that they were going to build a building and lease it out. It was the city of Hendersonville anyway."
Susanne Woolsey, a commercial broker for Beverly Hanks, confirmed last month that the Carroll family had agreed to sell the property to the city.
"It's under contract, meaning it's sold but it hasn't closed," she said. The closing is set for mid-June, she said. She did not disclose the sale price.

Assessed for tax purposes at $641,200, the property had been listed as high as $1.2 million and is currently listed for $675,000, according to the Multiple Listing Service.
Details if any of a long-term lease to Wingate, who pays for construction and the roles of the various parties have not been made public. Pardee has an interest in the project because of the health sciences degrees Wingate offers at its Hendersonville campus. In addition to its MBA programs, Wingate offers pharmacist and physician assistant training. The Sixth Avenue property is beside a large medical office building that has practices operated by Pardee and Blue Ridge Community Health Services. On most days it appears that there are surplus parking spaces in the large parking lot that serves the Pardee Medical Office Building.
"We have been invited to attend a press conference at 10 o'clock in the morning with the city and the county and we look forward to going," Pardee CEO Jay Kirby said. He declined to provide more detail about the hospital's involvement in the project.

McGee heading to Hendersonville
Jeff Atkinson, Wingate's director of marketing and communication, confirmed that McGee is traveling to Hendersonville Friday for the news conference.
JerryMcGeeWingateWingate University President Jerry McGee speaks to the Henderson County Board of Commissioners on Nov. 20, 2013."President McGee will be in Hendersonville tomorrow and is looking forward to visiting with the county and city and hospital and others who are working on a proposal," he said.
During a 12-minute closed session on March 6, the City Council "consulted with the City Manager and City Attorney to consider and give instructions concerning negotiating the price and other material terms of a contract for the acquisition of real property by purchase, option, exchange, or lease," according to minutes of the meeting. The council took no action.
Contacted the next day, March 7, Connet, the city manager, said the real estate purchase under discussion was "around the hospital for potential development."
"We are all working together to get Wingate located in Hendersonville but we're obviously still trying to buy property," he said. "It's not quite as imminent as we had hoped. I would just say that we're working together to find a permanent location (for Wingate) in Hendersonville."
Charlie Messer, the Board of Commissioners chairman, said "you're close" when asked if Friday's board action and news conference dealt with the Wingate relocation.
"I'd tell you if I could," he said. "We had direct orders from the company president. There's been a lot of stuff to put this deal together and they don't want it to blow up at the last minute. It's big for Henderson County."

Wingate seeks high-tech facility
McGee told the Board of Commissioners during a meeting on Nov. 20 that the college had outgrown its current space on King Street at Fifth and Sixth avenues. The college rents 11,000 square feet of space in the former Coldwell Banker building and 2,000 square feet next door in the HomeTrust bank building. On the Hendersonville campus in 2013 it had 52 students studying pharmacy, 18 in the MBA program and 10 in the physicians assistant program. By 2015, McGee told commissioners, the college projected an enrollment of 72 in the pharmacy school, 25 in the MBA program and 30 pursuing a P.A. degree. It has 17 full-time and 10 part-time employees.
McGee said the university would like a new or newly renovated 25,000-square-foot building with high-tech capabilities. Ideally, Wingate would like "a dedicated state-of-the-art high-tech facility which would take care of our current and future needs," he told the commissioners. The college would be open to a long-term lease. "We expect to pay rent," he said.
Commissioner Grady Hawkins made the motion to direct County Manager Steve Wyatt to find a solution that would help Wingate expand its Hendersonville presence.
"Wingate has been a bonanza for helping our young people get off on a career," Hawkins said. "I would hope maybe our staff would be able to take a look at some of our parameters to see what we could do about helping with expansion plans."

Home has history

The property that could become Wingate's new home is on Sixth Avenue at Oak Street across from the YMCA and the old Two Guys pizza restaurant.
It contains a 3,192-square-foot home and is currently occupied by the oldest daughter of Jesse McCall and his wife, who moved into the home in 1946. A 23-year employee of the Ecusta paper mill in Pisgah Forest, McCall and his wife raised seven children at the home. He died in 1989 at age 91.
Jesse McCall brought a cow and chickens with him when he moved into the home after World War II, and grew strawberries, tomatoes and other produce in a large garden, family members said. Peach, apple and plum trees grew in the yard.
Although property records show that the house was built in 1930, McCall family members believe the house dates to 1906. It was originally built by the Episcopal church as a summer retreat "for their lay people to come up during the hot weather," Susan McCall said. "I think it was a boarding house once or twice."
Anne McCall, who is married to Jesse McCall's oldest son, Fred, has researched the family history at the Sixth Avenue property, which was then considered country. It once has a swimming pool.
"My husband's father bought the house in 1945. They moved in Dec. 27 of 1945, and he said it was snowing," she said. "But the swimming pool was already filled in at that time. Jesse had seven children and they needed a big house. My husband said if those five boys had known there was a swimming pool they'd have dug it up."
"He put out a garden until he was 88," she said of her father-in-law. "One thing he did up on the hill, he put out 10,000 strawberry plants and he would sell, and then he grew tomatoes for Winn-Dixie.
"My mother-in-law did all kinds of canning and freezing. He had peach trees and apple trees and plum trees." He grew grapes, too, "and in the basement, he made his own wine."
Anne McCall, a 1960 graduate of Hendersonville High School, said the family will be sad to see the old house go.
"I understand the city of Hendersonville bought the property," she said. "The boys haven't signed all the papers yet. It hasn't closed. Whatever's in that house they'll have till June the 1st to get it out. I understand they're going to tear it down."
Kerry Dill, who lives in the home with his parents, also recalled his grandfather's large garden and family stories about the cow and chickens.
"Back then it was considered out in the country," Dill said. "It's zoned medical-office now. I think this is the last residential on this street. We're the last holdout on this block anyway."