Morgan State University officials broke ground Wednesday on a $72 million business school — the first step, they said, in a plan to expand the campus' western edge while improving a troubled shopping center.
The 140,000-square-foot Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management will include a lecture hall and classrooms, as well as hotel rooms and a large kitchen for hospitality classes. The building, which is expected to be completed in the summer of 2014, is the first of three planned for land where a vacant hardware store stood most recently.
Morgan President David Wilson said the project marked "the dawn of a new era at Morgan" as the campus edged westward. When the business school is complete, Wilson plans to begin work on an adjacent behavioral and social sciences building and a school of community health. The university also intends to build a bridge over Hillen Road to connect the two sides of the campus.
"Just as a new footbridge will connect this academic complex with the main campus to the east of Hillen Road, so too will this day bridge Morgan's history here … with its future," Wilson said.
The university's expansion, Wilson said, should help improve the surrounding area. The Northwood Plaza Shopping Center, which sits next to the site of the planned buildings, has seen few improvements since former City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris was fatally shot there in 2007.
"We do not want our students and this community to have as our neighbors shops that don't match the campus," said Wilson.
The university has recently begun a plan to improve the Hillen Road corridor, and Wilson has said he would like to see coffee shops and restaurants that would appeal to students and faculty. Current tenants of the shopping center include a discount grocery store, a nail salon, a drugstore and the New Haven Lounge, the celebrated jazz club that Harris had been visiting before he was shot in an apparent robbery attempt.
The university's history with the shopping center stretches back decades, Wilson said. In the 1940s and 1950s, students at the historically black institution protested the segregated movie theater. The protests, he said, were among the first in which large groups of demonstrators were arrested to draw attention to their cause.
"The sweat, the tears, perhaps even some blood, it took all of that to get us to where we are today," said Wilson.
Graves, the founder of Black Enterprise magazine and the chair of a national media company, joined Wilson, State Sen. Joan Carter Conway and City Councilman Robert W. Curran for the ground breaking ceremony.
It was at Morgan, Graves said, that he first started a business — mowing lawns up and down Hillen Road. As the business grew, he was able to raise his prices and hire his fraternity brothers, he said.
"When people ask me about the most important influences in my life, I start by mentioning Morgan State University," Graves said.