Western Kentucky University’s business college is extending to downtown Bowling Green after space in the Pushin Building was donated by John Ridley, the building’s owner.
Ridley, also a member of WKU’s Board of Regents, is donating 5,000 square feet on the building’s second floor. Ridley said the gift made in his and his wife Carolyn’s names will be managed by the College Heights Foundation for the specific benefit of the Gordon Ford College of Business.
“It is a private and university partnership to accomplish something for the best of the students and the university community,” Ridley said an interview June 29.
Through Top Best Ever, the Ridleys are gifting the space for three years at no cost, valued at $80,000 per year. They are also providing $60,000 to fund leaseholder improvements for the donated space, according to a WKU news release. The total value of the gift is $300,000.
WKU President Tim Caboni said he appreciated the gift from the Ridleys and described it as an opportunity to continue deepening the relationship between WKU and the community.
“It will provide a great opportunity for our students to have an applied experience downtown on Fountain Square,” he said. “As someone who lived on the square during my time as a graduate student, boy has downtown changed a great deal. It will be a great opportunity for those young people to come pursue business activities right in the heart of the community.”
Dean Jeffrey Katz of the Gordon Ford College of Business said the extra space facing Fountain Square Park will provide a closer connection to Bowling Green’s business community.
“This gives us the avenue to further engage with the business community from our student and faculty and staff perspective,” Katz said in an interview Monday. The project, he said, is about “engaging with the business community in a different way, of innovating the way that we deliver our applied programs and also enhancing the impact we have.”
The space will include a classroom for some of the college’s graduate courses and seminars, Katz said. That will allow for easier connections between local businesspeople and students, he said. The space will also house offices for the college’s six centers of excellence, which are used to extend classroom learning into the business community through internships and projects.
“For example, we have a Center for Leadership Excellence and the plan is to have some programming there,” he said. “The leadership center has a luncheon program for executives about once a month.”
Other applications include allowing data analytics students to share their projects with the business community and providing space for the college’s weekend MBA program.
“It allows us to have some space where students can coalesce into teams (and) work with the business community right in the center of downtown,” he said.
Katz thanked Ridley for his contribution.
“He’s a visionary,” he said. “I really have to compliment him.”
In making the gift, Ridley said he was motivated to not only extend WKU’s presence downtown but to also connect business students to the heart of Bowling Green’s business district. WKU’s business college wants its students to have experience and “being in the business district is important,” he said.
The building is currently going through some renovations, and Ridley expects those to conclude by July 15.
Katz said being closer to downtown has long-term benefits for students and faculty by facilitating student collaboration and faculty partnerships with businesses.
“It’s really a way to go to where our business partners are,” he said.
“As an applied research university, anything that we can do to help our young people think about how the theories to which they’ve been exposed in the classroom apply in the real world is going to enhance their experience,” he said, adding WKU and the community will need to continue working together for mutual growth.
“How exciting is it that you’re going to have WKU right on the square,” he said.