Coastal Carolina University officials insist this week’s purchase of the University Place apartment complex will help the school hold the line on housing costs in the coming years.
University leaders plan to sign off on the deal Friday, and they estimate the agreement will save the school $25 million over the next few decades. Officials expect to use that money for maintenance and renovations, said Stacie Bowie, Coastal’s chief financial officer. The savings will also stave off increases in housing fees. Last year, room and board rates at Coastal rose by 5 percent.
“It’s a big savings definitely for the university and for our students in the long run,” she said. “That’s exactly the intent of our board. They very specifically said, ‘We do not want to increase the cost of housing to our students for the foreseeable future.’”
The apartments house more than 2,000 students and sit off S.C. 544, about a half-mile from the main campus. The complex is considered on-campus housing even though it’s currently owned by the nonprofit CCU Student Housing Foundation, which has leased the property to Coastal in recent years.
The foundation was established in 2003 to assist Coastal in expanding — buying land, building facilities, etc.
“As a government entity, it’s harder for us to make a land purchase and do that quickly with a seller,” Bowie said. “But an independent foundation has the ability to do those kinds of transactions a little more quickly.”
Ultimately, the school will wind up contributing more than $87 million to the deal. That amount will cover the foundation’s debt on the property.
Coastal leaders expect to save money through the University Place purchase because the school’s bond rating is better than the housing foundation’s for the outstanding bonds. Coastal’s lease on the 54-acre property and its 46 residence halls would have run through 2042.
Bowie said the process is similar to the savings homeowners see after refinancing their houses.
“We just happened to save $25 million between now and 2042 on that transaction,” she said.
Coastal’s decision to keep housing rates flat was welcome news to 20-year-old Grace Cox, who has lived at University Place for two years.
“That’s all I’m paying for,” said the senior, who added that scholarships cover her tuition.
When Cox first moved to UP, as students call the complex, she worried about the inconvenience of being away from the main campus.
However, she’s found the driving-parking-walking commute isn’t so bad. She hasn’t heard many complaints from her friends, either.
“Everyone’s pretty content with UP,” she said. “To be honest, there aren’t that many options for on-campus housing anyway. … I think that people are satisfied.”
On the heels of the UP purchase, Coastal officials will move forward with the addition of a dining venue at the complex. University Place has a café, but Bowie said plans for a larger facility have long been in place and school leaders are in the process of choosing an architect for the $4.7 million project.
“Right now, they have a very small food service operation,” Bowie said. “And with over 2,000 students, we don’t think that’s quite enough.”
Coastal spokeswoman Martha Hunn said the new food destination’s fare will resemble that of Hicks Dining Hall, which offers a variety of menu options. She said Coastal recently received state approval for the facility.
Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.