Despite one of the worst economic downturns in decades, Drexel University announced yesterday that it had received the largest individual private gift in its history - $25 million from a member of its board of trustees.

The gift will be used to buy and renovate two buildings for a new center for the College of Arts and Design that will allow the university to consolidate its design programs and extend its University City campus westward across 35th Street.

The donation was from Richard A. Hayne, founder and chairman of Urban Outfitters Inc., according to a source who asked not to be named because the donor had requested anonymity.

The university declined to confirm the donor's identity and Hayne said only that he had given the university a portion of what it received for the expansion.

Reached by telephone yesterday, Hayne offered few details about the gift, declining even to confirm its size. The low-key executive said a number of people contributed to Drexel's purchase of a new building for the media, arts and design school but that "all of those people wish to remain anonymous" and that he was among them.

Citing his responsibility as a trustee, Hayne would not discuss specifics or identify the donors. "I can definitely tell you I gave some, but I'm not telling you how much I gave," he said.

"In some small way, I hope I'm giving back," he said. "I don't want to have any credit given to me personally. I don't need that, I don't want that, and I've never asked for it. And I do whatever I can to withhold it."

Drexel president Constantine Papadakis said in a prepared statement that the university was "proud and grateful" for the gift.

University officials said the donor challenged Drexel to raise an additional $30 million for the project - a daunting task given the state of the ecomomy. The gift, however, is not contingent on the match.

"We're optimistic," said John Zabinski, associate vice president of Drexel's office of institutional advancement. "If people believe in the mission and the idea, they continue to give."

Hayne's gift helped the university acquire two properties on Market and Filbert Streets that will be renovated into the Antoinette Westphal College of Arts & Design.

The renovations and move-in, which will happen in phases, are expected to be complete by September 2010 at the latest, officials said.

Hayne said he joined the Drexel board seven or eight years ago after being invited to do so by Papadakis, an administrator praised by some but criticized by others in academia for his conviction that a university should be run like a business.

Hayne, whose philanthrophy and volunteerism is coveted by nonprofits and institutions across the region, said he accepted Papadakis' request because he was impressed with him.

Papadakis has presided over an ambitious expansion agenda for Drexel, which had long been known primarily for its engineering programs but which now commands equal attention for its business, design and other offerings.

"You've got a lot of people who are highly, highly resistant to change, and he's done an extraordinary job navigating all the spheres of influence and getting them sort of aligned and backing his agenda," Hayne said.

"I like his style," Hayne said. "I like what he does and I like how he does it."

Despite the recession, Drexel's fund-raising is still strong, said Zabinski, a Drexel executive. The university, which is in the second year of the quiet phase of a major fund-raising campaign, has had a 46 percent increase in new donors and a 26 percent increase in the average gift size, he said.

But, nationally, 90 percent of schools responding to a survey released last month by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities cited a drop in fund-raising, spokesman Tony Pals said.

Though other universities have recently announced large gifts, Drexel's seems to buck the trend even more, Pals said.

"Twenty-five million is a significant gift even in the best of times," he said. "So for it to come during the current economic downturn is an incredible endorsement of Drexel's leadership and direction."

According to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the large individual gifts that are made in tough economic times tend to come from confident, successful entrepreneurs.

"If they give away money, that's fine. They'll just make some more," said Melissa Brown, associate director of research.

Hayne, a 1969 graduate of Lehigh University and resident of Chestnut Hill, is among the richest people in America. Born in Ingomar near Pittsburgh, the son of a steel company comptroller and housewife, he was 262d on Forbes' list of the 400 richest people in America last year and 743d in the world.

Hayne's prodigious wealth derives from a specialty-retailing empire he built from scratch over four decades, starting with a single shop selling apparel and offbeat accoutrements near the University of Pennsylvania campus. His company is now global, headquartered at the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and with 286 stores in North America and Europe under the Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People and Terrain names.

Hayne, chairman of the company, is its single largest shareholder. He sold more than $100 million of company stock in 2008, half of it just before the Wall Street crash caused share prices to nosedive. Hayne was left with about 40.6 million shares valued at $617 million in mid-September, according to Bloomberg News.

He has supported other educational programs: the Children's Scholarship Fund - which is helping 3,000 low-income Philadelphia families who send children from kindergarten through eighth grade to nonpublic schools; Springside, a private girls school in Chestnut Hill; and Chestnut Hill Academy, a private school for boys.

Ina B. Lipman, executive director of the Children's Scholarship Fund, wasn't surprised Hayne would want to be anonymous.

"That says something about the donor and the real reason behind the gift. The end result is what he cares about."

Lipman knew Hayne when she was a law student at Temple University and he had just opened his first store, the Free People's Store at 44th and Locust Streets. It used to give away items in a box near the cash register - a hint of Hayne's early entrepreneurial style.

At Drexel, Hayne's gift helped the university acquire the 130,000-square-foot building at 3501 Market St. and the 13,000-square-foot building at 3401 Filbert St.

The new design center will house programs including fashion design, interior design, architecture, design and merchandising and product design, now scattered across campus. Interdisciplinary programs in digital media and entertainment and arts management also will have a home there, as will the school's historic costume collection.

The college includes a television station run by students, a successful record company, and a highly touted annual fashion show.

"We're going to be able to add specialized facilities that we've long needed," including gallery and exhibition space and a product design studio, said Allen Sabinson, dean of the Westphal College. "It's transformational."

The project augments Drexel's $500 million campus construction plan, under which four buildings are already under construction or about to be built.