Duquesne buys RMU Downtown site

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Robert Morris University's longtime Downtown classroom center is changing hands but not purpose.

Duquesne University, continuing its expansion off the Bluff, has reached agreement with Robert Morris to purchase the eight-story building at 600 Fifth Ave., the schools announced Friday.

Neither side would disclose the purchase price.

Duquesne President Charles Dougherty said the building will give the university about 40 more classrooms and seating for 1,100 students at a time when its enrollment is growing.

"It's a historic moment for Duquesne University," he said. "At one time we were just a sliver along one street at the top of the Bluff with few students. Now we're a tier one national university and we just had to have more space."

The purchase represents the first significant addition of academic space for Duquesne since the construction of the Bayer Learning Center on the Bluff and the acquisition of Fisher Hall, both in 1995. In recent years, Duquesne has built the $35 million Power Center to transform a run-down section of Forbes Avenue and also has made a handful of acquisitions on Fifth Avenue near the new Consol Energy Center.

Dr. Dougherty said the moves are being driven by enrollment, which has increased by about 1,000 students to 10,400 in the past 10 years, and the number of people living on campus. However, he doesn't expect any further acquisitions any time soon.

"This is a very big purchase for us in terms of square footage," he said. "It will take us a long time to digest this. I don't see any major moves onto Fifth Avenue in the future."

Although the deal has yet to close, Duquesne expects to occupy the bulk of the building, which has carried the Robert Morris name for half a century, by Thanksgiving.

Under the sales agreement, Robert Morris will continue to use one floor of the building for students in its media arts program through May 2012. Graduate business programs and others tailored for non-traditional students will move out at the end of this semester.

The Pittsburgh Center, as it has been called, became expendable as the focus for Robert Morris shifted to its main campus in Moon, where 90 percent of undergraduates take classes.

At the same time, enrollment at the Downtown center has plunged in the past decade. Before the sale, only about one-third of the building's 100,000 square feet was being used.

Money earned through the sale will be used to fund the construction of a facility at the Moon campus, which opened in 1964, for the media arts program.

With the sale, Robert Morris is hoping to lease space in some locations, such Downtown, Cranberry and Southpointe, to better serve graduate and non-traditional students.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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