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Lions working to raise $30m for new facility.

THREE YEARS AFTER LIONS World Services for the Blind announced plans to build a new headquarters in downtown Little Rock, the nonprofit is still working to raise the $30 million needed.

The campaign "is structured for us," said Ramona Sangalli, Lions World Services' executive director. "We do not wish to rush into a project. We would rather take very deliberate steps so that we can ensure its success. I've seen too many cases where people have begun construction before completing the campaign, and that does not really bode well for the project."

The nonprofit faces several hurdles:

* The organization's current headquarters at 2811 Fair Park Blvd. has been appraised at $2.8 million for both land and buildings, Sangalli said. Developers have contacted Lions World Services about buying the property, but no one has agreed to purchase it.

* The $2.8 million would be only about 10 percent of what's needed for the new building.

* Lions World Services offers instruction and boarding at its headquarters. To avoid disrupting services to its students, the nonprofit can't move until the new building is complete. That means anyone buying LWSB' current site would need to agree to let it continue operating until its new headquarters is complete.

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That option is unlikely, however, Sangalli said.

So far, Lions World Services has bought six blocks east of Interstate 30 where it plans to build the nearly 168,000-SF facility. The organization has paid $2 million of the land's $3.5 million price tag, and Sangalli said LWSB began the "quiet" phase of its fundraising campaign for the building this year. She did not disclose how much LWSB has raised so far.

This first phase involves contacting the organization's board members and others active in the organization. During this phase, the organization hopes to raise $5 million by the end of 2008, Sangalli said, though the date can be moved back.

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Lions World Services plans to complete the fundraising campaign by 2010, when, the nonprofit hopes, construction will begin, Sangalli said. She emphasized, however, that LWSB would not begin construction before the campaign is complete.

The Services

Lions World Services has worked with the blind and partially blind at its Fair Park campus, east of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, since 1950. The only open space left at the site, which is one city block, is the courtyard created by the campus' six buildings.

Roy Kumpe, who was partially blind, founded the organization in 1947 under the name Arkansas Enterprises for the Blind, which was changed to Lions World Services for the Blind to reflect the organization's affiliation with the Lions Club and worldwide scope. Since its founding, the center has worked with more than 9,300 blind or partially blind students from 58 countries.

Lions World Service funds its programs through a mixture of state-sponsored tuition programs, grants and donations. The organization had total revenue for fiscal year 2007 of $4.4 million and expenses totaling $3.8 million.

The organization has 13 programs ranging from training to become a Microsoft systems engineer to a joint training program with the Internal Revenue Service, but Sangalli said instructors will also work with students to create programs.

"If an individual has interest, and we don't have a job-training program, a plan can be customized," Sangalli said. "We had one young man from California who wanted to be a cabinet maker."

An instructor at the organization worked with the Californian to design a program that would help the student master woodworking, and a local cabinet shop then assisted the student as he learned the finer skills, Sangalli said.

The organization is also anticipating that it will require a larger facility as baby boomers age.

The Fundraising

Sangalli said the organization's board has considered building a new campus for about 10 years and became serious about the proposition four years ago.

"This building is in good shape, but it's 40-plus years old. We would eventually reach a point where we would need to either do major renovations or build new," Sangalli said.

The planned headquarters, designed by AMR Architects Inc. of Little Rock, will be built in three phases. The first phase includes more than 130,000 SF for dormitories that can house 100 students in private rooms, a 300-seat auditorium and classroom space. The subsequent phases will each expand the dormitories' capacity by 50 students, bringing the total capacity to 200 students.

She said the headquarters' price tag has risen from $24 million to $30 million since the organization first considered building. The rise has resulted from an increase in construction costs, Sangalli said, but will not affect the campaign.

"At this point, I don't think the rising cost has had any significant impact in terms of the campaign. That's a fact of life, unfortunately," she said.

She also said she is not discouraged by the pace of fundraising that has taken place to this point.

"I don't think fundraising can ever progress as rapidly as we'd like," she said. "Our plan is just to achieve everything one step at a time."

The goal is to further the vision set forth by Roy Kumpe, his son, Peter Kumpe, said. Peter Kumpe also serves as the Vision of Hope fundraising campaign chairman.

"I'm glad to participate in what really was his vision, and the vision is a vivid one," Peter Kumpe, a partner with Williams & Anderson PLC of Little Rock, said. "It's truly bringing a new life to people who have suffered a loss of sight. It can be a debilitating injury, but this program has a track record of teaching and supporting people to live a full life, notwithstanding their disability."

Kumpe said he is working to solicit donations from people within the organization. After the foundation has completed raising its goal of $5 million for the first phase, its members will begin searching for donors and organizations that can provide larger sums for the headquarters' construction.

"We would like to have it done as soon as possible. We are accepting pledges over a three- to five-year period, and we hope to land some very large gifts," he said.

Economic Development

Once complete, the new headquarters will be a part of what has been described as a nonprofit corridor in downtown Little Rock, which currently includes Heifer International and the William J. Clinton Presidential Library.

Skip Rutherford, dean of the University of Arkansas' Clinton School of Public Service, said the eventual addition of Lions World Services to the nonprofit corridor would allow the nonprofits to work together.

"I think that when the Lions World Services is built, you are going to have within a few-block area a very significant economic development area," Rutherford said.

Lions World Services will build on the work already underway at the Clinton School, the Presidential Library and Heifer. The organizations all currently recruit nationally and internationally known individuals in the nonprofit sector to speak. As the number of nonprofits in the area increases, other nonprofits might begin looking to relocate to the corridor, Rutherford said.

While Lions World Services has been around for more than 50 years, the move into a new facility might gain it greater recognition within the state, Rutherford said.

"Remember, Heifer was just a small organization and has developed into a force," Rutherford said. "Lions World Service is known more outside of the state than in Arkansas, just like Heifer."

Jay Chesshir, president and CEO of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the eventual move of Lions World Services will only contribute to the nonprofit corridor's creation.

"When you look at Ramona Sangalli's worldwide operation, that is another example of how having that organization here in a cluster of other nonprofits gives an organization reason to look at us as a regional or headquarters site," Chesshir said.

Nonprofits often pay above the state's average salary and contribute to the local economy, he said. The nonprofits also give the city good press, Chesshir said.

The state offers incentives for nonprofits seeking to relocate to the site. Sangalli said Lions World Services' board is assessing whether the nonprofit could receive the incentives, but that no official decision has been reached.

The requirements to receive incentives include creating a payroll for fulltime employment of $1 million and receiving 75 percent of income from out-of-state sources.

By Mark Hengel

mhengel@abpg.com
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Title Annotation:Nonprofits & Corporate Giving
Comment:Lions working to raise $30m for new facility.(Nonprofits & Corporate Giving)(Lions World Services for the Blind)
Author:Hengel, Mark
Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:Jul 7, 2008
Words:1397
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Next Article:Contributions up, but capital giving to Heifer stalled: documents show drop in funding for building.
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