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Steve Bell donating $25M to boost UNC biz school’s undergrad enrollment by 50%

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Greensboro developer Steve Bell and his wife Jackie are boosting their pledge to UNC Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School to $25 million as part of plans for a new building, increasing the school’s undergraduate enrollment from 1,000 to 1,500 students and improving graduate programs.

An anonymous donor is matching the $25 million, which is accelerating UNC’s goal to achieve $75 million in private funding needed to match a $75 million commitment from state lawmakers that passed in July. The university has raised $58 million in private funding with a June 30, 2022 deadline to reach the $75 million goal.

“If I’m anything, I’m an entrepreneur and I hope to make things happen,” says Bell, who earlier this year pledged $11 million to the business school.  “I certainly have benefited from my years at Chapel Hill and I want others to have similar experiences and opportunities.”

The new building will be named after Bell, joining existing business school facilities that honor the Kenan family of the Triangle and eastern North Carolina and Charlotte’s Hugh McColl Jr. “We will now have three buildings named after people associated with the three major commercial areas of our state,” says Doug Shackelford, Kenan-Flager’s dean.

Bell grew up in Raleigh, where his father was an oral surgeon. Dr. Durant Bell turned 100 on Sunday and lives in Chapel Hill, while Bell’s mother, Laura, is 96.

Steve Bell is a UNC graduate, as are two of his three children and their three spouses.

Investing in Kenan-Flager makes the state stronger by boosting prospects of both employees and employers, he says. “I hope some of your readers will read this and decide they’d also like to step up to create a larger business school.” He noted that North Carolina’s population has grown 30% over the last two decades, while the business school’s undergraduate enrollment has increased by 10%.

Kenan-Flagler, which opened in 1919, also has 400 master of accounting, 1,600 MBA and 70 Ph.D. students. The undergraduate business program ranks tied for seventh in U.S. News & World Report’s most recent listing.

Before launching Bell Partners in 1976, Bell worked for real estate groups affiliated with First Union and Greensboro’s Richardson family. He started buying small apartment complexes and shopping centers, gradually taking on bigger deals such as Burlington’s Holly Hill Mall, which he bought for $14.5 million in 1991 and sold for $30 million six years later, according to a 2011 Business North Carolina story.

While the business relied on financing from wealthy individuals for many years, it increasingly has attracted more institutional investors as the size of deals increased.

Bell Partners now owns or manages more than 60,000 apartments nationally and employs about 1,500 people in nine offices. Steve Bell’s son, Jon, became CEO in 2016. Lili Dunn is president.

“We’ve created a lot of value for our investors and I think we can do the same thing for the state by investing in the business school.”

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