A partnership thought to be the first of its kind will bring an entrepreneurial center to Ohio Wesleyan University's campus in Delaware.

Delaware City Council and county commissioners earlier this month approved an agreement with OWU to move forward with plans to establish the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at the university's Stewart Annex. The two-story structure at 70 S. Sandusky St. sits about one-tenth of a mile south of Delaware City Hall.

Under the agreement, OWU's Woltemade Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurship will contribute $100,000 toward the renovation of the 6,000-square-foot building. The city and county each will contribute $50,000 annually toward the operation of the facility for five years.

Sean Hughes, the city's economic development director, said the parties are breaking new ground with their pact.

"This is the first project of its kind in the nation between a private, liberal-arts institution, a county and a city on an entrepreneurial center," he said. "I think that's a huge point of pride that Delaware can show a leadership role in developing these types of centers."

Hughes said the former bookstore will feature classrooms, conference rooms, offices and less-traditional creative spaces for prospective and working entrepreneurs. He said the center also will host educational programs, lectures and networking events.

The facility will give start-up founders a centralized site where they can work while taking advantage of the expertise and resources offered by local and university officials. OWU students also will be able to complete internships with entrepreneurs who use the center.

The university expects to begin renovation work on the building in March in the hope of wrapping up the project in the summer.

"The goal is really to get it open before students get back on campus," Hughes said.

Delaware County Commissioner Jeff Benton said he hopes the agreement leads to the creation of new businesses and jobs within the county.

"I think this is a really important strategic initiative that really could pay off in the long run," he said.

OWU President Rock Jones said in a statement the project will "enhance the education of Ohio Wesleyan students across all disciplines and enrich the vibrancy and economic vitality of our community across all sectors."

Delaware City Manager Tom Homan said he views the agreement on the project as "a real milestone."

"This is a project that we spent several years on, and it's an exciting opportunity for our community," he said.

Homan cited the response to a 2015 survey of Delaware residents as evidence that people who live in the city want to see increased activity related to economic development.

In that survey, about 54 percent of respondents said "attracting and retaining businesses" should be either the first or second most-important priority for city officials.

A seven-member advisory board with representatives from the city, county and university will be established to oversee the center's activities. After the initial five-year agreement ends, the city and county will have the opportunity to extend their contracts with the school.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

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