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ND contributes to development off campus

Madeline Buckley | Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three- part series examining the development projects occurring south of Notre Dame’s campus.

Notre Dame’s “front door” into South Bend has long been dismissed as a deteriorating neighborhood with the absence of a college-town feel, but the University has collaborated with the city on several projects they hope will bring about change, according to Greg Hakanen, director of asset management and real estate development.

The University is currently investing significant funds in three specific projects to develop the neighborhood directly south of campus: The Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Project, the Eddy Street Commons and Innovation Park.

Hakanen said the University has several motivations for developing the neighborhoods surrounding campus.

“In part, it affects the perception of the University and in part, it’s a safety issue,” he said. “At the neighborhood’s low point, there were drugs and crime, but that’s largely past.”

These efforts will help create a vibrant community surrounding campus, which will benefit both students and faculty as well as community members, Hakanen said.

The three projects involve improving housing and commercial ventures in the neighborhood south of campus and expanding research opportunities for students and faculty.

Regarding the Revitalization Project, Hakanen said the University, guided by the city and a neighborhood group, buys housing lots on Notre Dame Ave., builds homes with a pre-approved aesthetic and rents them to University faculty.

Hakanen said the homes commissioned by the University are required to have a traditional look with a front porch, and the garage has to be behind the house.

Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves said he estimates the University has been building houses in the northeast neighborhood, which is centered on Notre Dame Ave., south of campus, for about 10 years and accumulating property for about 18 years.

“We saw it as an opportunity,” he said. “Housing had declined in that area, and we knew faculty and staff wanted to be close to campus, so we could play a role by buying up lots.”

About 15 faculty members currently live in the area, and many more are on a waiting list, Affleck-Graves said.

In addition to improving the housing in the neighborhood, the University also wanted to encourage a growth of business in the area, Affleck-Graves said.

The idea to create a “college town” in walking distance of campus was first broached by the previous executive vice president, Fr. Tim Scully, and it was this that led to the construction of the Eddy Street Commons, Affleck-Graves said.

Affleck-Graves said the University bought the land on Eddy Street to turn into a commercial district, but the administration did not want to be the developers of the project.

“It’s a big project, and we didn’t want to use University money,” he said.

Notre Dame sold the venture to Kite Realty, a private real estate firm from Indianapolis, he said.

Affleck-Graves said the University invested an undisclosed amount into the project, but Kite Realty will pay the money back as the venture turns a profit.

“At the end of the day, we will not have any investment left in the project,” he said.

The third construction project the University has a stake in is Innovation Park, which will be located at the corner of Twyckenham Drive and Edison Road.

Innovation Park is a research park that will focus on expanding the research of Notre Dame faculty and students by transforming basic, academic research into a viable marketplace venture, according to President and CEO David Brenner.

“Hopefully the park will bring new ideas to the forefront and create jobs and economic growth,” Brenner said.

Brenner said most major research universities already have a park of this sort, so Notre Dame is acting as the primary sponsor of the project. However, Innovation Park is an independent facility that is a collaborative effort between the University, the city of South Bend, the state of Indiana and several private donors.

The University is donating the land and covering construction costs, Brenner said. He said the end figures will not be released, but it will total in the millions.

“This is seen by the University as a major investment in faculty and students to research further than they can in the classroom,” he said.

Along with transforming the research of students and faculty, Innovation Park will also offer companies the opportunity to use the Park’s resources, Brenner said.

“We are in discussions with 20 or more companies in different stages of negotiations,” he said. “These companies will come to Innovation Park because they want to engage students and faculty in their research to help solve a problem or figure out how to do something.”

Brenner said Innovation Park is a result of University President Fr. John Jenkins’ vision to expand research at Notre Dame.

Despite the struggling economy, Affleck-Graves said each of these projects involve relatively low-risk investments.

He said even if Innovation Park does not stimulate the expected commercial ventures, it will still augment Notre Dame’s research opportunities.

As far as building the Eddy Street Commons, Affleck-Graves said this is probably the worse time in the past 50 years to be in the business of commercial development, but since Kite Realty now privately owns the project, the University has little to lose from any business failure.

“We want the projects to be a success,” he said. “But University money is not at risk.”

The second part of this series will explore the impact of these projects on students and faculty.