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10/28/2018 6:23:00 PM
$2 million catch: Vincennes, county challenged to match proposed Purdue investment

Jenny McNeece, Vincennes Sun-Commercial Assistant Editor

An annual investment of $90,000 into the Pantheon Business Theater from Purdue University's department of chemical engineering comes with a required $2 million match, according to a fact sheet issued by Purdue officials Friday.

Sangtae Kim, head of the chemical engineering department, held a press conference Tuesday at Vincennes University announcing that the small business incubator and shared work space inside the historic Pantheon Theatre at 428 Main St. would be the benefactor of the income from a $2 million endowment left to the university years ago.

Confusion, however, ensued in the following days as neither city nor county-elected officials were clear on what kind of financial commitment that meant for them.

Jim Bush with Purdue's news service sent out a fact sheet — per the Sun-Commercial's request — attempting to shed light on the proposed arrangement, one that plainly spells out a “matching fund challenge” to local elected officials.

Purdue is asking that, in return for its annual investment, city and county officials set up their own $2 million endowment to help to fund the Pantheon Business Theater's future endeavors long after Purdue's 5-year deal expires.

The agreement also directs local officials to look to the private sector for the$2 million match endowment although, “any (funding) source is allowable,” the fact sheet says.

A timeline to raise that money is “yet to be established,” but Purdue does ask that it be of a timely nature to “ensure the achievement of the shared, bold vision for this collaboration.”

Steve Miller, founder of INVin and a member of the Pantheon board, said there is “much flexibility,” in the new partnership with Purdue as there is “no definitive date” by which they have to raise the matching funds.

“They want to work with us to better understand what is reasonable,” Miller said. “But we don't want to wait too long. We want people to be motivated to give.”

The endowment Purdue wants local officials to establish, Miller said, is to reach far beyond the  five years Purdue has agreed to offer income from its own endowment. The idea, Miller said, is that as Purdue is helping the Pantheon Business Theater to grow, so, too, are local elected officials and business partners.

County commission president Kellie Streeter admitted there was confusion surrounding the local financial commitment, but she pointed to the agreement between Purdue and the Pantheon Business Theater being uncharted territory.

Getting it all straight, she said, “has been a struggle.”

But she argued that the partnership would result in Purdue being a “long-term partner to benefit skilled trades here for years to come.” And she believes the investors needed for the $2 million endowment will come forward.

“I think many more are going to come on board once they see this momentum,” she said.

Miller, too, called the partnership “a collision of opportunities” that will benefit both Knox County and Purdue.

Some, however, still aren't sold on the Pantheon Business Theater and are angered that even more local money must now be invested — private sector or not.

Ray McCormick, who is running next month for the open District 3 seat on the county council, has been a vocal opponent of the project, his main concern being the amount of tax dollars that have been invested and the likelihood that even more will be spent keep it running since it will be jointly-owned by the city and the county.

He also worries about the amount of control Purdue will have over what kinds of ideas and projects see investment, even calling the partnership “self-serving” on Purdue's part.

“This is just the start of the spending,” McCormick said of money earmarked so far. “How much more money will come out of our community for this?

“The money is skyrocketing.”

City and county elected officials have already agreed to split the estimated $2.4 million cost of renovation, and work is being overseen by the 5-member Pantheon board, whose members were appointed by Mayor Joe Yochum, the county commissioners, the county council, the city council and INVin.

The city and county will soon own the theater — having purchased it for $1 from INVin — and the hope is to see interior construction begin by the end of the year.

The investment from Purdue would be spent on certain operational costs, specifically entrepreneurs in residence, i.e. professionals who can help to guide young entrepreneurs using the space to grow and nourish their own business ideas.

The idea is that there would be not just one entrepreneur in residence but many.

Whenever a local entrepreneur needs guidance in a particular speciality or field, he or she would then reach out to Purdue which, in turn, would draw from its resources to offer individualized help.

Some of those entrepreneurs, Kim said, are likely to volunteer their time. Others, however, will likely charge a substantial rate, a rate which money from the Purdue endowment would be used to pay.

According to the fact sheet from Purdue, the money would also go to directly support Purdue students as interns here, specifically ones who have a desire to study and test agricultural innovations or those who are interested in a potential business start-up from the Pantheon.

Related Stories:
• Purdue invests in Pantheon Business Theater in Vincennes
• Vincennes, Knox County to take ownership of downtown Pantheon Business Center

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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