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Online college call center to get Rio Nuevo incentives to set up Downtown

A Pima County-owned building, recently vacated by Caterpillar, will be the site of a new "student support" center for Southern New Hampshire University.

The building, at 97 E. Congress St., will be leased to the online college, which has about 130,000 students around the world. Up to 350 employees here will work in academic advising and student financial services, the nonprofit school said earlier this year.

The county has negotiated a lease with the college, subject to approval by the Board of Supervisors at an August 6 meeting.

The lease, for 10 years, would have the school pay $687,000 in rent the first full year, or $15.50 per square foot, for the 44,000-square-foot building. Pima County would pay for utilities and maintenance, while SNHU would cover janitorial services and security, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said.

The college will lease parking spaces in the neighboring county-owned garage, beginning with a monthly rate of $85 per space.

Earlier this year, Rio Nuevo voted to subsidize up to $650,000 in parking for the college over a decade. That incentive was approved before the college's interest in the county building was made public.

"Initially, 100 jobs will be created," Huckelberry told the county supervisors in a memo. "This number is anticipated to increase to 350 jobs by 2021." The average salary will be $48,344, with an additional $12,000 in benefits, he said.

Huckelberry told the supervisors that the "economic impact over the next five years is expected to exceed $218 million." How that figure was calculated was not disclosed; even if the company immediately hired 350 employees at twice the projected salaries, the total wages paid over five years would be less than that amount.

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Caterpillar has moved from the building, which it temporarily occupied while building a division headquarters on the western edge of Downtown.

The county plans to charge SNHU $15.50/sq. ft., with about $6.25 going toward utilities and upkeep, and $9.25 as market-rate rent, Huckelberry said. The county had charged Caterpillar $13.72/sq. ft. for occupied space, and $7.12/sq. ft. for areas that the company was not using.

Prior to Caterpillar moving in in 2016, the county had spent about $200,000 annually on utilities and upkeep on the building.

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