Braxton Miller group announces acquisition of Urbana University campus

The efforts of a group including Braxton Miller to purchase the former campus of Urbana University are moving forward after finding a financial partner for the acquisition.

The new institution in Champaign County will be known as the Pro Development Institute.

The group says it “will become the first ever dual collegiate and professional pathway program that features its own leagues to maximize athletic growth and opportunities.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Miller, a Springfield native who starred at Wayne High School and played quarterback and receiver at Ohio State, is teaming with his uncle, Paul Miller, and Tramain Hall as the local representation of the acquisition group.

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Paul Miller works with Braxton on the former Buckeye’s personal athletic brand, Charg1ng, and The Braxton Miller Foundation while Hall is the founder of the Enhance U Sports Performance Academy, which has multiple locations in the Miami Valley.

Urbana University operated from 1850 until the spring of 2020, when it was shut down by Franklin University, which purchased the school in 2014 and ran it as a branch campus. Franklin cited declining enrollment and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic when announcing the decision to close the school, which competed in athletics at the NCAA Division II level.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The campus includes 22 buildings on 115 acres, and some of its athletics facilities were upgraded not long before it closed.

Paul and Braxton Miller announced last summer they were interested in buying the campus and turning it into a school they would call Urbana Prep.

“It’s not all the way up to par yet, but we’re in the process of making it happen,” Braxton Miller said in June. “There’s a lot of things in between with the acquisition of the campus (and opening the school), and we’re taking our time with that. We’re crossing our Ts, dotting our ‘I’s and making the right decisions as far as acquiring something like this to create our own prep school.”

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On Friday, Paul Miller described PDI as the evolution of that vision. It will include grades 9-12 as well as a post-graduate program with an opening date still pending.

The sale of the former campus has not been finalized, according to Sherry Mercurio, Franklin University’s executive director of the Office of Community Relations, but the university entered into a purchase agreement for the sale of the property four weeks ago.

CBRE, a commercial real estate services and investment firm, is handling the sale of the property. According to the CBRE’s property listing for the campus, the property is “no longer available” for sale.

Press materials describe the new institution as “an all-inclusive program that utilizes the most technologically and scientifically advanced development resources to provide its elite athletes with the very best in competition, coaching, and academics. PDI is designed to maximize results and pave the way for success at the college level, professional level, and life after sports.”

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The local group is partnering with Paul Holyfield, the founder of a school in the Los Angeles, Calif., area called DNA Prep Academy. Holyfield “is providing the institute’s schooling foundation,” according to a press release, while additional financing is being handled by a financial technology solutions company called WLTHE.

Other members of the acquisition group were not identified but include “a unique blend of regional and national industry leaders in sports, education and development projects” according to the release.

Champaign County area leaders voiced excitement over the possible development at the former campus.

The Champaign Economic Partnership will be involved with the process as the acquisition moves forward, partnership director Richard Ebert said.

The city of Urbana looks forward to setting up a meeting with the group to learn more about its plans and vision for the property, Urbana Community Development division manager Doug Crabill said.

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