Elon University is considering Greensboro for its possible new law school.
Greensboro leaders said the campus would boost the city's prestige and image and also help the economy, though no one would estimate the financial impact.
The university has not yet committed to starting a law program. But as part of its feasibility study, the school is trying to decide whether to make a permanent home for its law school in an existing building in or near downtown Greensboro or on its main campus in Elon.
School officials have talked with Action Greensboro representatives, who are helping the university search for a downtown site.
A task force led by Elon Provost Gerald Francis is trying to gather information by March, in time for the next meeting of Elon's Board of Trustees. The board could decide as early as then whether to go forward with plans for a new law school.
"We're not going to rush this decision," said Dan Anderson, Elon's director of university relations. "It's a pretty complex set of issues."
Elon's law school would need about 60,000 square feet of space, enough for a law library, classrooms and administrative and faculty offices, Anderson said. The school eventually could have about 350 students and 40 employees, he said.
Jim Melvin, president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation and a founder of Action Greensboro, confirmed that he is helping scout possible downtown locations for the law school.
"It would be a huge boost for the region," Melvin said. "It's a very high top priority for us."
A law school's students and faculty would provide a definite economic boost to Greensboro, Melvin said, because they would likely live in town and spend their money here.
"They are the kind of people that you want in your center city," Melvin said.
Greensboro officials said a law school could help local efforts to attract and keep young people in the city.
"We do hope that people who come here and go to school here will end up settling here," said Action Greensboro's Executive Director Susan Schwartz. "It's another opportunity to attract young professionals to the city."
A law school also would help the city's image, Greensboro Mayor Keith Holliday said, and economic developers could use it to lure other businesses.
"To say you've got a law school in the city of Greensboro, it would send a super message image-wise," he said.
If Elon decides to go forward with plans for a law school, it faces a tough decision.
Putting the law school on campus would give law students and faculty easy access to all of the traditional university services. That location also would mean closer ties between this graduate school and the traditional campus, which has nearly 4,600 students.
Elon has the land -- but not, at this point, the money -- to build a law school on campus. A new building would cost about $10 million, Anderson said.
A Greensboro location is tempting because it would put the law school in a larger city, one with plenty of lawyers and a district and federal courthouse. Leasing space might prove cheaper in the short run than building from scratch. And there is always a chance that city and county leaders might consider giving Elon some economic development money, which would further cut start-up costs.
The city almost certainly will have to offer Elon incentives to lure the law school here, Melvin said.
But it is unclear at this point what those incentives would be -- tax breaks, money for renovations or reduced building rent. Nor is it clear whether local governments, local businesses or private foundations would pay to attract the college.
"I would hope we would treat them like any business," Schwartz said.
The university is not looking at sites other than on campus or in Greensboro. The school has not yet considered any specific sites in Greensboro, Anderson said.
Elon formed its law school task force in April 2002, but gave it no deadline for it to complete its work. Five other North Carolina universities -- Campbell, Duke, N.C. Central, UNC-Chapel Hill and Wake Forest -- have law schools.