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11:17am EDT January 24, 2005
When the Virginia Marti College of Art & Design expanded in 2003, it wasn't because its owner was eager for growth.

"The city came after us," says college founder Virginia Marti Veith. "I was very comfortable staying small and selective, but with the expansion, we have had so many more opportunities for students coming in here and wanting to get in here. When you're very comfortable, you don't want to rock the boat, and we were doing very well at that time, but (the city of Lakewood) offered to help us."

With help from Lakewood, Cleveland Growth Capital and Huntington Bank, the college underwent a $1.5 million expansion, nearly doubling its campus size from 12,000 square feet to 21,800 square feet.

The city bought the building from its previous owner and used Cuyahoga County's Brownfield Redevelopment Fund, designed to overcome environmental barriers to reuse and obtain full use of underutilized commercial, industrial and institutional properties. The city did about $200,000 worth of asbestos removal work to make the building suitable for development, and demolished two small buildings behind the site, allowing the school to build another small parking lot for its teaching staff.

The college then bought the building from the city for $265,000. Cleveland Growth Capital financed 40 percent of the expansion, Huntington Bank financed 50 percent and the college financed the remaining 10 percent.

As part of the agreement, the college moved 18 positions into the city within the first year of occupying the space by moving from Cleveland to Lakewood seven administrative offices, including the comptroller, financial aid, support, registration and job placement. It also moved a designer fabric store that donates its proceeds to the Mission for the Fatherless, a charity Marti Veith and her husband founded to aid orphaned children in Kenya.

The college's structure, which consolidated the original and new buildings into one facility, includes two art studios, an interior design lab and an expanded student gallery. Marti Veith says that, as with any expansion project, there were problems with not getting materials on time, but despite a few glitches in completing the building's façade, "It's been good for us."

That is proven out in the college's enrollment numbers. The expansion has allowed the school to offer more classes, and it had a record 100 new starts last fall, compared to an average fall, which brings in 75 new students. The college can now accommodate up to 400 students in its two-year fashion design, fashion merchandising, graphic design, interior design and multimedia programs.

Now that the students and staff have settled into their new digs, Marti Veith is looking at the undeveloped 6,000 square feet on the campus, space that is being used for storage and for students filming multimedia presentations. In the past, the college has rented warehouse space to produce fashion shows, and Marti Veith says, "Everybody wants me to do a theater right now, and I say, 'Hey, hold it.'" She may consider that idea in the future, but for now, she's content with the facility's current setup.

Marti Veith is pleased with the results of the expansion project and seems almost envious of the opportunities available to her students.

"It's kind of a crazy business, but it's great," she says. "I'll tell you, I'm so tempted to go back into designing clothes, but how many things can you do in one lifetime?" HOW TO REACH: Virginia Marti College of Art & Design, (216) 221-8584 or www.virginiamarticollege.com

Designing woman

When Virginia Marti Veith was planning the $1.5 million expansion of the Virginia Marti College of Art & Design in Lakewood in 2003, she wanted the project to reflect her vision. She shares four tips for making a real estate project personal, yet keeping it in check.

* Keep it creative. The college's Interior Design Department developed the color schemes and interior of the new facility to make it feel more corporate, and the interior design lab was designed to reflect industry standards. "If you really look at some of the paintings around here and the color schemes, it's really very artistic and inspiring," Marti Veith says.

* The exterior should reflect the inner goings-on. "We wanted to show that we are really teaching interior design. The building is our calling card, so if we teach interior design, we better look like it all the way," she says. "It is fun to see all the creative juices getting together when (the students) design all the displays."

* Know when enough is enough. "You always have to be careful of not overprojecting and overspending. Really, I'm a conservative businessperson. I want to have both of my feet on the ground before I take another step," Marti Veith says.

* Avoid growing too quickly. "If you're taking on growth and you have double expenses, you better double your business. And if that doesn't happen, you slow down and you pull back a little bit," she says. " ... I learned a lot in the garment industry, and that's kind of what I've taken into education."