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Kite Realty submits Eddy proposal

Chris Khorey | Thursday, May 3, 2007

Ann Arbor has State Street. East Lansing has Grand River Avenue. Columbus has High Street. And soon, South Bend will have Eddy Street – or so city and University officials hope.

Kite Realty Group, a development company contracted by Notre Dame to redevelop the Eddy Street corridor south of campus, submitted its proposal for “Eddy Commons” to the city of South Bend for zoning approval Monday and hopes to start construction on the first phase this fall.

That first phase, which would include 80,000 square feet of retail along Eddy Street, as well 162 condominiums, 268 apartments and two hotels in a triangle between Eddy, Edison Road, and State Route 23 (South Bend Avenue), is designed to better connect South Bend’s Northeast Neighborhood with Notre Dame’s campus in a physical sense – and perhaps even ease town relations.

“We want to strengthen connections between the neighborhood and the University and at the same time create a vibrant new urban center that can be a model for South Bend as well as other cities throughout the country,” South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke said in a statement released to The Observer.

A decaying neighborhood

Until the 1960s, the Northeast Neighborhood of South Bend – located in large part between Notre Dame, the St. Joseph River and South Bend Avenue – was a thriving community of middle-class families and safe streets. Studebaker automobiles provided jobs, and children played on the vast green swath next to Notre Dame Stadium, where DeBartolo Quad is today.

But that changed when Studebaker started cutting jobs and eventually went out of the car business all together. Families moved and houses were either torn down or rented to students or other low-income individuals. Property values plummeted and the crime rate rose.

A determined group of residents created the Northeast Neighborhood Council, which tried to clean up the area and crack down on absentee landlords.

“It did what it could, but it wasn’t blessed with a lot of resources,” said Greg Hakanen, Notre Dame’s director of asset management and real estate development.

To aid the underfunded organization, five major institutions in or around the neighborhood – Notre Dame, the City of South Bend, Memorial Hospital, St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and the Madison Center – combined to form the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization (NNRO).

The NNRO immediately put together a plan to try to redevelop the area, buying up vacant property and, in 2005, selecting Kite to put together a development of 25 acres of mostly Notre Dame-owned land in the northeastern corner of the neighborhood.

Kite will either buy or lease most of the land as the project begins to take shape over the coming years, Hakanen said.

Major changes ahead

The land for the proposed development now consists of a mostly wooded area, a few gravel lots and some boarded-up homes along Eddy Street.

But Kite Vice President David Compton sees something much different.

“As you walk down Eddy, you’re going to have four-story buildings on both sides of you, with old-style shops with painted signs,” he said.

The city has promised to lengthen several roads into the current woods east of Eddy; Napoleon Boulevard will be extended several blocks further east to State Route 23, while Georgiana Street, Burns Avenue and Duey Street – currently cul-de-sacs off 23 – will be extended north into the development. At Edison, Duey will connect to a service road for the parking lots south of Notre Dame’s Joyce Center.

Luecke said the extra infrastructure is a cost the city is willing to bear in exchange for the increased tax revenue and improvements to the neighborhood.

“We want to build new streets and roads that will serve this development and its neighbors,” he said.

Along the new roads, Kite plans to build “Phase One” of the residential properties, which will vary from condominium townhouses to apartments above the stores. Under the plans, some tenants will have parking at their residences, while others will use the four-story parking garage to be located at the new corner of Napoleon and Georgiana.

East of that area – near the corner of Edison and State Route 23 – the city hopes to find a separate developer to build a “tech park” of office space for research firms.

“It’s a live-work-play,” Compton said. “You could live here, you could work at the retail or office or the University of Notre Dame. It’s pedestrian friendly.”

But some people are upset with the loss of so much green space.

“We have heard from individuals that would clearly prefer that the woods stay as woods,” Hakanen said.

Hakanen said the University researched the area and found that it is already environmentally disturbed – it was farmed until World War II and later was used as a trash dump.

“As woods, it’s not that great an example,” Hakanen said. “Also, it was never available to the public. There was a fence along it.”

Hakanen also pointed out the University is planning to landscape the area south of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center into a “town commons” that will be available to students, shoppers, and residents.

As the neighborhood improves, land values likely will rise – something that some fear will force out the current residents of the area, including students.

Mark Kramer, president of Kramer Properties, which owns many rental homes in the neighborhood, said he will try to counter this trend by continuing to market to students.

“I like dealing with students,” he said. “I have fun dealing with students. It’s part of the reason why I get up every morning.”

But Kramer admitted that if his properties are reassessed at higher values, his taxes will go up. And that means either higher rents or fewer services from him as a landlord.

“It does put me in an awkward position,” he said. “Just because the county raises your taxes doesn’t mean that you can raise rents the same amount. We’d just have to get leaner in other areas.”

Junior Ryan Mingo, a junior who will live a few blocks west of the development next year in a house that has been passed down from current seniors – and one he hopes to similarly pass down – said he isn’t worried that rents will rise beyond students’ means anytime soon.

“The house is still surrounded by a bunch of vacant lots,” he said. “Just because they build something a few blocks away doesn’t mean it’s going to suddenly get much nicer.”

Shoppers’ paradise or student ghetto?

After “Phase One,” retail will stretch along the block of Eddy between Edison and Napoleon Boulevard. Assistant Project Manager Ashley Ottesen said “anchor” institutions like grocery stores and bookstores will take up large chunks of the 80,000 square feet of retail and smaller shops will fill in the rest.

“You need one larger tenant to anchor the center, and then you need smaller tenants,” she said. “We’re looking for a mix.”

Compton said he envisions a coffee shop in the neighborhood and said that, while nothing has been finalized, the South Bend Chocolate Company has expressed interest in a location in Eddy Commons.

“You’d like to have that shop, whether it be a bookstore or a market, that would be your main reason to be there, but you also need a coffee shop or a small restaurant where you could grab a sandwich or some ice cream,” he said.

Mingo said a pressing need for the area is a place where students and residents on-the-go can get quick food.

“I think one key would a chain restaurant like a Chipotle or a McDonald’s – something that would be quick,” he said. “Right now there are a lot of restaurants in that direction, but you have to sit down, or they’re really [only] bars.”

Hakanen said the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore has also expressed interest in a location in the area, but that for the most part, the University’s role has been mainly limited to what Notre Dame would not like to see along Eddy Street.

“As part of our agreement with Kite, we identified some of what we called ‘noxious’ uses that we felt were inappropriate to the neighborhood and the mission of a Catholic university,” Hakanen said, adding that businesses counterproductive to a retail district would also be excluded.

Hakanen said funeral homes and second hand stores were on the list, among other things. He also said that while there will be restaurants that serve alcohol, there will be no bars in the new development.

In addition, the residential areas will be priced out of students’ range. Compton said that in order for the retail to succeed, the district will need year-round residents.

“We want people that come home there at night,” he said. “They would live in those condominiums and shop in the retail area.”

Mingo said the lack of nightlife would not be a problem, but that keeping students out of the housing may divide the neighborhood and hurt town relations even more.

“Not having bars is no big deal. It’s only a couple more blocks to the [Linebacker],” he said, referring to the popular bar at the intersection of State Route 23 and Edison. “But not having students living there will be counterproductive to a college atmosphere. Not making it directly oriented to students means it won’t achieve what they want.”

Hakanen said if so many premium residences so close to campus were available to students, it would hurt the University’s residential mission.

“A significant portion of the Notre Dame experience is having most students live on campus,” he said. “The University did not want to create housing that would draw students off campus.”

And Luecke said he thinks Kite will have no trouble filling the housing.

“We think they’ll be attractive to any number of audiences,” he said. “There are young professionals who already live in the community that would be attracted to this neighborhood, and there are older people who want to downsize their homes and live closer to the campus and the downtown area.”

Phase Two

In the coming years, Compton said Kite wants to begin “Phase Two” – expanding the development towards the “Five Points” intersection of Eddy Street, Corby Boulevard, and State Route 23.

Formerly a hot spot for nightlife near Notre Dame, the intersection now boasts only a few businesses and several empty lots. Compton said he envisions retail stretching down Eddy from the University and several new blocks of homes in the area between Route 23 and Napoleon.

But redevelopment will not come to that area until the state government finishes its proposed rebuilding of Route 23. The project was supposed to begin a few years ago, but opposition to the plan forced a re-design and pushed back the start date possibly as far as 2011.

Luecke said that, even with the delay, he thinks pushing to change the design was the right thing to do.

“The portion of state [Route] 23 [north of Edison Road] is just five lanes of concrete – it’s not a very attractive road,” Luecke said. “The state wanted to do that same thing south of Edison – just bulldoze five lanes through the neighborhood. The neighbors were not happy about that.”

Instead, the plan is to build a four-lane road with a landscaped median.

The delay in this construction will also hold up another infrastructure project that will be important for the area. Twyckenham Drive, the road built to bypass Notre Dame when Juniper Road was closed in 2006, needs to be connected to a road south of State Route 23.

But St. Joseph County Engineer Susan Al-Abbas said the short connection cannot be completed until Route 23 is done.

“The traffic study that we had performed for the area showed that the widening of State Route 23 was necessary prior to the opening of the Twyckenham and [State Route] 23 intersection,” she said. “The reason being is, if we open that intersection prior to the completion of the project, there will be additional traffic on the Twyckenham corridor and that will impact the residents on that corridor.”

But even with the road construction being delayed, Compton said, the project will be a major addition to the community.

“This adds jobs and people to the city of South Bend, and you won’t need an automobile to get there,” he said.

And inside the existing Northeast Neighborhood, Kramer said the new development will help get the once-proud area back on its feet.

“It’s going to give the students that live in my houses and apartments options to stay close to the University to shop and eat,” he said. “And the environment it’s going to create will be a positive as well.”