Drexel to receive $45 million gift for new center for business school

An artists rendering of the new academic center for the business school.
An artists rendering of the new academic center for the business school.
Posted: November 16, 2010

Drexel University on Tuesday morning will announce a whopping $45 million gift from corporate executive and alumnus Bennett S. LeBow for a new academic center for its business school, which already bears his name.

It's Drexel's largest gift from a single donor and the 12th largest to be made to a U.S. business school, Drexel officials said.

At a cost of $92 million, the spacious, 12-story limestone-and-glass building is to open in 2014, consolidating Drexel's four business school buildings into one. It will allow enrollment in the business school to grow by about 500 students, to 4,100, president John A. Fry said in an interview.

Situated at 32d and Market Streets, the building will be Drexel's most expensive to date - more than the $69 million integrated sciences building to be named after the late Drexel president Constantine Papadakis - and serving as "the entrance to the heart of the university," Fry said.

The announcement comes just 31/2 months into Fry's tenure. While Fry closed the deal, the project had been in the works for several years and was cultivated by Papadakis.

"This is phenomenal for Drexel," Fry said. "It's a very confident statement about Drexel's future."

LeBow, a 1960 electrical engineering graduate, said he was pleased with the business school's progress since he made his initial $10 million donation in 1999 and the school was named after him.

The growing school has launched full-time, online, and corporate MBA programs and has been ranked among the top 100 in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. Four-year undergraduate tuition, which includes a co-op experience, is $38,000 per year; the one year MBA program tuition is $57,000.

LeBow called his initial gift "the best investment I ever made."

His $45 million gift is the largest he's ever given to any entity.

"They've been doing a great job of it, and I want to keep it going," said LeBow, a West Philadelphia native who chairs the board of the international bookseller Borders Group, based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

LeBow made his reputation as a turnaround specialist, investing in struggling companies as wide-ranging as jewelry, real estate, and sports collectibles. He also chairs the board of Vector Group Ltd., a private-equity firm focused on real estate and tobacco products.

LeBow, 72, of Miami, is Drexel's largest benefactor and credits the university with giving him his start. He enrolled in the school's co-op program, which allowed him to work while attending school.

"I couldn't afford to go anywhere else," he said. "Drexel is my alma mater. It got me going on everything."

LeBow is to be on campus Tuesday morning for the announcement.

The new building will feature a finance trading lab, a 300-seat auditorium, a five-story atrium, areas for experiential learning and business consulting, videoconferencing, and a recording studio to support online programs, Drexel officials said.

The building will "allow our students to learn in a setting that is less like a classroom and more like the corporate environment," said George P. Tsetsekos, dean of the business school.

It will replace the aging Matheson Hall, built in 1965, which is slated for demolition late next summer.

The limestone used in the building's construction is similar to that of the nearby 30th Street Station and U.S. Post Office, officials said.

Fry spent Monday in New York City fund-raising for the project. An additional $3.6 million already has been pledged from several donors, Fry said, and he hopes to secure $30 million more.

"My focus for the next six to 12 months will be raising money for this project," Fry said.

Even before Fry came on board as president of the 3,638-student university last summer, he pursued conversations with LeBow, calling him the day after his appointment was announced in March.

"Every university president's dream is to have a person as thoughtful and generous and willing to partner" as LeBow, Fry said.

In addition to the business school donations, LeBow said, he also has donated millions in stock to the university and previously gave $5 million to Drexel's engineering college for the LeBow Engineering Center.

Drexel last year announced a $25 million gift from Richard A. Hayne, founder and chairman of Urban Outfitters Inc. and a member of the university's board. The donation makes it possible for the college to buy and renovate two buildings for the College of Arts and Design.

Despite the recession, local colleges have in recent years received sizable donations.

Terrence M. and Kim Pegula in September donated $88 million to fund a new hockey arena and establish a hockey program at Pennsylvania State University. It was the largest private gift in Penn State's history. The couple's fortune stems from the natural-gas industry and the sale of East Resources Inc., the company Pegula founded, to Royal Dutch/Shell group for a reported $4.9 billion.

Jerome Fisher, the founder of Nine West Group Inc., and his wife, Anne, in 2008 donated $50 million to support a new eight-story biomedical research center at the University of Pennsylvania.

The estate of Donald B. Stabler in 2008 gave $34.2 million to Lehigh University to help students with financial aid. A 1930 graduate, Stabler made his fortune in construction and real estate. He was a board member for 30 years before his death in 1997.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com.

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