One potential home for a downtown center of learning is out of the running and another is building up steam, those closest to the proposed project say.

One potential home for a downtown center of learning is out of the running and another is building up steam, those closest to the proposed project say.

The center of learning is a concept involving several colleges offering classes full time in the town center. The center of learning would improve Grove City's image and revitalize the town center, mayor Richard "Ike" Stage has said.

The site that looks most hopeful for the construction of a complex is on the northeast corner of downtown along Columbus Street, between the Grove City Library and Broadway.

Greg Laws, owner of G&R Properties in Grove City, presented the proposal this spring to a meeting of Grove City Town Center Inc., a downtown business district organization. It would involve properties owned by Laws and Schoedinger-Norris Funeral Home, 3920 Broadway.

Preliminary plans call for a two-story building on Columbus Street with classrooms on the upper floor and part of the ground floor and shops facing Broadway. An acre lot behind the funeral home would be developed into parking that would be shared by the learning center and the mortuary, Randy Schoedinger said.

Stage said he has met twice with Laws and "talked about the big picture of developing that part of downtown." Chuck Boso, the city's development director, and Don Walters, community and business relations officer and the city's liaison to the University Partnership, also attended the talks with Laws.

Laws declined comment, saying he is awaiting word from university partnership members before moving forward. He deferred to Stage for details.

"We are the point for this project," Stage said. "Everything is funneling through the city."

It is not immediately clear who will take the next step. That's because partnership members have not committed to build or own a building in Grove City, Stage said. The city hasn't taken any action to invest in the project.

City officials have described the university partnership as a loosely knit coalition that includes Columbus State Community College, Ashland University, Mount Vernon Nazarene University, Ohio Christian University, Otterbein University, University of Toledo and South-Western City Schools' adult education program. The group has agreed to collaborate to offer college courses in shared space in Grove City beginning evenings this fall at the South-Western Career Academy.

Eventually, city officials have said, the goal is to program classes 14 hours each weekday from a dedicated facility. City officials are trying to find ways to make that happen.

"We're going to do everything we can," Stage said. "It's no different than any other economic development issue that the city would have. We'll see what can we do to help them locate here."

The city could enter into a public-private partnership to build a facility, offer incentives in the form of loans or grants or create a combination of financial supports for a center of learning, Stage said.

"I don't know if it will be city-owned. With the current (Grove City) council, I doubt it," he said. "But these are rare opportunities to get universities to come to our city. I still remain optimistic we can do something."

When told that Laws said he is awaiting a response from the partnership, Stage replied, "If we haven't given them the information, we need to get that for them."

Columbus State, which is to act as landlord to the other schools beginning this fall at the South-Western Career Academy, is undergoing a leadership transition that may slow negotiations. A new president was recently seated there, and needs to become acclimated before considering Grove City possibilities, Stage said.

Laws' proposal is among three presented to city officials since the city dropped earlier plans to jointly develop the lumberyard site into the center of learning with Stonehenge Co. Stage declined to name parties in one of the proposals, saying it was subsequently withdrawn.

The third, from Gary Curry, owner of the former TOSOH buildings across Grove City Road from the lumberyard, was rejected this spring, Curry said.

Curry in March offered to remodel a 20,000-square-foot building he uses as a machine shop, spending $1.6-million to create classrooms, laboratories and other educational facilities. He conducted two tours with partnership members and city officials after presenting details to a meeting of that group.

He proposed adding the improvement costs to rent payments, amortized over a decade or longer.

He said he also offered to bulldoze his buildings and sell his 7-acre site for $5 million.

When he hadn't heard a response by May, Curry said he asked Boso about his offers. Boso told him that the partnership thought his building "looks too industrial," he said.

Boso told him "they're not interested," Curry said.

Meanwhile, unnamed developers have inquired about building a center of learning outside of town center, Stage said, but no specific sites have been proposed. He said some also have expressed interest in reviving center of learning plans for the lumberyard site. But a recent city council push to build a park there has stalled those developers.