Negotiations narrow for potential new Webster Vienna campus


Webster University could sign a lease for property in central Vienna, Austria, as early as mid-October. If Webster and the property owner come to an agreement, the property will be the new location for Webster’s Vienna campus.

At the fall 2012 convocation on Aug. 16, Webster University President Beth Stroble announced that Webster had moved closer to signing an agreement.

Arthur Hirsh, director of Webster in Vienna, said if a deal is signed this fall, the campus would not relocate until at least January 2014. Hirsh added that it’s possible an agreement will be reached in mid-October at the earliest.

Hirsh said counteroffers between Webster and the owner had been made and “the differences are narrowing.”

Webster Vienna has looked at several possibilities for relocation during the past few years.

The potential new location is Palais Wenkheim — a palace built by a prince. It has 50 percent more space than Webster Vienna’s current property.

“This is our No. 1 choice,” Hirsh said.

Kristina Grueneis, a media communications major, attended Webster Vienna for a year before transferring to the Webster Groves campus in January 2012. She said students would enjoy the palace in central Vienna.

“It (the potential new campus) gives you a feeling of old Vienna,” Grueneis said. “You’re closer to downtown, so you have more options to meet your friends and hang out after class.”

Webster University may rent another building from the same property owner for student housing. This building is a 10-minute walk from the new location.

“It (the potential new student housing) will feel an awful lot like our dorms here (in the U.S.), except, in all likelihood, the rooms will be smaller than what you see in the U.S. environment,” Greg Gunderson, chief fianancial officer of Webster St. Louis, told The Journal in April. “But they’ll have a large commons area. The single units are going to fit more to European standards.”

Currently, the majority of Webster Vienna’s housing is off-campus, approximately 30 minutes from campus by public transportation. Webster Vienna’s campus is 20 minutes from central Vienna.

“If you’re in central Vienna, most everything is in walking distance,” Grueneis said. “Even for students without cars, it will be easy to get around and experience Vienna.”

Webster has leased various properties for its Webster Vienna campus for 31 years. It moved to its current — and third — location in 1996.

“It’s kind of a shame because we’ve (Webster) paid rent for 31 years,” Hirsh said.

He said Webster could have owned a property by now had it been paying a mortgage for 31 years. It’s not uncommon for Webster to lease property abroad for its international campuses instead of owning them. However, Hirsh said Webster does own property at its Geneva and Leiden campuses.

If an agreement goes through, Webster Vienna will lease the property for now. Hirsh said Webster might be interested in purchasing the location later.

The new location will have more classroom and office space. Increased enrollment is one reason Webster first considered relocation. Enrollment started to increase at Webster Vienna after it received Austrian accreditation in 2001, Hirsh said.

Webster Vienna became interested in the space in December 2010. Shortly after, another potential tenant was in negotiations with the owner. Hirsh said Webster thought it had missed an opportunity to purchase the property. Then, the property came back on the market in August 2011.

“We’ve been interested in it since then (fall 2011),” Hirsh said.

Hirsh said relocation was a goal at a Webster Vienna campuswide retreat in 2008. The potential new site was previously occupied as an office building. Hirsh said renovations would be needed. Webster Vienna will have to knock down walls to build classrooms.

Hirsh thinks the new location will attract more students.

Grueneis said a larger campus may increase the community feel of Webster Vienna.

“In Vienna (at Webster Vienna), it’s more like just a building,” Grueneis said. “There’s nothing really around it. Unlike here (Webster Groves campus) where you have a lot of stores and on-campus places where you can go eat.”

Grueneis, who lived in Vienna and commuted to campus, said there is only one on-campus dining option at Webster Vienna. Parking near the current Webster Vienna campus is free. If Webster Vienna relocates to central Vienna, students will have to pay a nominal parking fee.

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