Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bricks and Mortar

It's getting to the point where the Virgin Mary will have to start wearing a hard hat.

Announcements over the last week highlight ND's planned campus transformation, including four new dorms, a new Law School, a new Engineering building, and, yes, my favorite project, the improvements to the Joyce Center. There was also new information on Eddy St. Commons, including an update on the details that included the diagram below.

Let me be clear, I'm all for progress. Some of the projects listed, particularly the one about which I've ranted for years, are sorely overdue. While I'm not thrilled at the loss of the University Club, of which I have very fond memories from growing up, that's the kind of thing that can be relocated with minimal effect. And I haven't decided whether or not the missus and I are picking up niches in Cedar Grove -- I'd had my heart set on my ashes being scattered all over campus, but a central location is nice.

As usual, however, I have concerns. Those concerns center around the Eddy Street project, and I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone that they have to do with ND's ability to follow through correctly on what they plan to do.

Eddy Street, like the Joyce Center project, is one of those "unique opportunity"-type efforts. What ND decides to do (or not do) here will affect the community for decades, if not longer. Although the current Eddy Street plans are part of a more grand plan to redevelop the area down to Five Corners, the retail footprint will be the anchor for everything else that is done, and if the anchor is shoddy, the project will drift with the winds. And one of the things that makes me fear potential half-assedness is ND's planned micro-managing of the tenants in that retail footprint.

ND has said they will not allow "toxic uses" of the area, which apparently has already ruled out bars. There are other rules affecting this, such as the area already being maxed out on liquor licenses, and I'm not in favor of dives like Bookmakers springing up there. But if ND goes too far in interpreting this "toxic use" rule (I know, ND going overboard on something? Perish the thought!), they could end up with a sterile environment that no one finds interesting. Nice restaurants with bars included and outdoor seating areas are a magnet for the kind of participation ND says it wants. They should be included, if not given priority.

Another red flag is the plan for the residential community. The vision, according to those in charge of planning, is a community of "yuppies and retirees". The retiree angle makes sense, as a lot of older ND alums/fans of means have purchased condos in South Bend in recent years. On the yuppie side, the group apparently wishes to pull some of the folks who currently view Granger as their target location.

The problem: Neither of those groups have children.

To be blunt, you can't build a strong community around childless yuppies because they're at that "fancy free" part of their life. If they feel like trying out a new place, they do it. They have no roots holding them to any particular community. If and when Eddy Street loses its charm, they'll move on.

The Eddy Street planners are shooting themselves in the foot by not making at least a token accommodation for children. As a parent, I can say with authority that nothing changes your life faster than having a child, and once that happens, that re-prioritizing leads you to settle down. It's hard to pack up and move to that cool new subdivision across town when you have to consider where little Johnny and Betty will go to school and who they will play with and how the move will affect them. If you want to build a strong community, that community has to include fully-fledged families moreso than vapid 20-somethings.

The yuppie focus also seems counterproductive. While prices haven't been released, those prices will have to be in the range of the current market in order to get the yuppies to buy in. Proximity to ND is of value to people who are currently far away from it, which might get your retirees in the door. But it'll have no value to Joe Schmoe who works in Mishawaka or Elkhart and can get a townhome a lot cheaper two or three miles away. So it's not like the yuppies (or anyone, for that matter) will be willing to pay premium prices. My guess is they'll end up with retirees and people buying units for the purpose of renting them out for home football weekends, and I'm not sure that's what they had in mind.

But the final concern hangs over both of those like a cloud -- neither of them talk about students.

If one of the purposes of the project is the improvement of town-gown relationships, you can't just bring professors or staff people in there and say, "There, problem fixed." The students must be involved. They're usually centrally involved in the alleged problems in the ND/SB tango, and they're the ones to whom both ND and South Bend should be reaching out because they're the ones who potentially can create long-lasting better feelings between the groups.

But that's not happening here. Undergrads will not be targeted for any of the currently planned residential areas, and it remains to be seen what kind of rental caveats will govern the condos and townhomes. The end result could be an island of "adults" on the edge of campus, which will not attract the students, push them farther off campus to "find their fun" (and all of the dangers that creates), and do nothing to help them get along better with the South Bend community.

As I said, ND only gets one swing at this pitch. If they hit a home run, they can make drastic improvements at the school that will affect generations of ND fans both now and to come in a very positive way. If they miss.......

Edit: My apprehension increases when I read reports like this. Note to the ND folks: $300k for a condo and $500k for a townhome ain't gonna fly in the South Bend market.

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Anonymous lunchbucket said...

Especially when the condo is basically an upscale hotel room. 300k? That's Chicago. Not South Bend. I'd also like to see the rent on the retail space. If this area is going to be consistent with the ND campus buildings expect to see higher leases for the retail space. That's going to divert a lot of the smaller businesses. Given all this, I still like the idea, and I think it will work because this is Notre Dame.

5/08/2007 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger joe boyle said...

right on. as a recent graduate i can say that i often saw the potential for the area south of campus to become a nice residential neighborhood for ND. this particular development seems like it will only service wealthy alumni looking for a pad for football saturdays.

5/08/2007 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Ed said...

Your grasp of the big picture is excellent. However, I do not understand your (and others) criticism of ND's involvement as being, or potentially being, "half-assed."

You go on to describe and to criticize the precise opposite - hyper meddling. Which is it?

5/08/2007 02:52:00 PM  
Blogger Mike Coffey said...

Half-assed doesn't mean they won't be involved, but rather that they'll misdirect their efforts and end up with something no one but they want.

5/08/2007 03:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My problem with "God, Country, Notre Dame" has always been the lack of "family." As such, it has always struck me as a mantra for priests, rather than lay people. This is readily apparent in the plans for this "community." Priests and developers should never mix, or else you end up with communities which make no allowances for families, realistic economic futures, or for the types of businesses which would reasonably make up a "college town."

At the same time, I am glad to see this development begin. I think this has the potential to be the groundwork of a real college town once the laws of supply and demand begin to take hold, and the best laid plans of priests and developers begin to crumble. The most viable business property in South Bend right now, I would think, lies wherever the edge of this development ends. South Bend has become a haven for every Crabby O'Mondays franchise in America, it will at least be nice to have some of them in walking distance of the campus.

5/08/2007 03:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The proposed development strategy for this area is far from first class. Anyone who knows the slightest thing about architecture or urbanism can see just has poor these plans really are. Its just a really mediocre / crappy development, thats what it is. Whats really sad is that this was an opportunity to do something that really would have been special, something really great for Notre Dame and South Bend. The current plans can at the very best produce mediocre results.

The project will enevitably "work" because Notre Dame will throw so much money behind it and because they will never admit wrong in any of their construction projects (see: enormous cost overruns on the DPAC, etc). Additionally, it would be nearly impossible to do any worse than what is already there, so if the existing conditions of the site are their barometer for success then congratulations in advance.

Notre Dame certainly knows how to make money with its endowment, it just sucks as spending it.

The other terrible part of this development (and this is entirely ND's fault, not the developers) was the descision to entirely exlude students. Its ridiculous to say that you are building a sort of "college town" if you are purposely exluding students from living there.

It's just all really unforunate given the enormous potential of the site to be really great. It really has the potential not just be half as good as other college towns, or somewhat similar to other college towns, but something truly better than other college towns, but oh well.

5/08/2007 05:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Ed Spengeman said...

I understand that one of the hotels will be a nine story building making it almost as tall as the library. I think that this is horrible and shouldn't be allowed. Notre Dame needs to step in and discourage/forbid this type of density. ALso I wonder who is going to rent all of these hotel rooms during the rest of the year not including football games.

I'm very concerned about this whole project. There are better architects/land planners in Florida but I don't believe we've even talked to any of them.
the finished product here should be a national award winner. I don't see that in the drawing provided in your article. Need some renderings!

5/08/2007 08:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kite Reality also developed the Erskin Plaza on the South Side of South Bend. It was promised to be a "shopping village" with sidewalks trees and a "park-like" feel. Although the stores that they brought are nice, (commonly visited and appreciated) Erskin Plaza looks very little like the artist drawing printed in the SB Tribune prior to constuction. In fact ,there are fewer sidewalks available today. Very little pedestrian access at all. Some of this may be the fault of the City of South Bend, but I hope that ND protects its interest and beauty of the campus. I hope that when its all done visitors to ND's campus still think it's a special atmosphere...and not a lot of concrete and broken promises.

5/08/2007 09:58:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always thought ND was special because it brought people together and united their spirit for a common goal, whether that was education, worship, community service or a "W" come GAMEDAY. Unlike most U's that treat students like #'s, Notre Dame has come upon an opportunity to bring all the ND family together. Its proximity makes it ideal for alumni who dont live close to buy or stay within walking distance for ND events, a place for students to get together and enjoy free time away from academics and possibly meet the ND family in a relaxed atmosphere. I think those who know college towns are best suited to plan what works, but it seems obvious that it is also a chance to improve NDs social atmosphere, its relations with the neighboring community, and create another facet of life that would continue to make ND even more special. More housing isnt exactly what South Bend regional area requires. And high priced upscale living areas seem to divide the haves from the have nots in the local area. I personally would like Notre Dame/South Bend/the selected development group to review what others do so well and create a unique environment that to a degree imitates what we all like about going to other college towns or cities. IE: Lincoln Park/ Wrigleyville- chicago, NYC, Mill AVE-TEMPE(ASU), State street Ann Arbor(UM)(yes MICH does something well), Austin, TX(UT), ETC. I think that with the right combo it could be really special and not NDs great fear of another Bourbon ST. every FRI/SAT during football season.

5/10/2007 09:08:00 PM  
Anonymous eddysorin said...

Agree with the following: No one with kids will be moving there.

Reason? You have no schools (Perley, if it still exists down Eddy, would be the closest public alternative - and when I was a kid I wouldn't go closer than a rifle-shot of thatcampus). I won't even get into the fact that ND doesn't have its own Lab School, which I think is a wasted opportunity.

But I think the retailers will come, unless the place has become much more of a car campus than even I realize.

On-campus students with plenty of pocket change don't want to hike to a remote lot and drive to University Park to buy a pair of jeans or sunglasses. If they consider it a walk (big stretch for North Quad), it might work.

Agree on the upscale bar/restaurant thing. If you don't have it, what do you have? Look at Stapleton in Denver, The Glen in Glenview. People who want a lifestyle without living downtown demand that.

Quick hits:

-At that condo price, all units will be bought by out-of-town buyers with the $$. If they can rent them, they will, and the market will be deep. If not, they will still be sold to a smaller group of wealthier guys, and they will sit empty 44 weeks a year. Syndication will be rampant among groups of buyers.

-I'm really interested in the hotel pro forma. Granted you can twist arms 8 weekends a year for $2000 per room for a minimum 3-night stay, and you'll capture some University-related business traffic, but the rest goes budget north on 33.

- Last thing: the "micro-management" on retail is no accident, and is not based on moral arguments. The University owns plenty of retail closer to the students (Bookstore, Legends, La Fortune). They will manage the mix to make minimize revenue dimunition at those establishments, which have a superior location.

5/12/2007 07:28:00 PM  

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