Local resident to continue ‘just living’ in midst of Eddy Street Phase II construction
Alex Daugherty | Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Notre Dame and Indianapolis-based Kite Realty recently broke ground on the second phase of Eddy Street in December 2017. This phase includes the construction of a grocery store, a revamped Robinson Learning Center, 22 single-family houses, 17 “flex” units, more than 400 new apartments and 8,500 square feet designated to restaurant space, according to Notre Dame News. Despite the ongoing transformation of Eddy Street, one original feature will remain: Johnnie Johnson’s house.
The property will remain untouched where it sits on the corner of Napoleon Street and North Eddy Street, but his residence will soon be cushioned by newly constructed townhomes and retail space.
“This house stays,” Johnson said. “The plan is to build up to me unless something else happens.”
Johnson said he knows better than anyone how desired his property is.
“I’ve had cash offers from people in Colorado, Florida, Ohio,” he said. “Some are alumni. Some are just plain developers. Sometimes people just send me a postcard: ‘I’ve been trying to get a hold of you for a month and you don’t even call me back. How can we talk?’ And all this stuff, all mad at me.”
Notre Dame has offered to buy his property on “several occasions,” Johnson said. He said he shifts back and forth between accepting the offers and refusing to lose his home — which he originally purchased as a tiny room in 1982 and managed to transform into a 2,500 square foot home.
“Some days I do, and some days I don’t,” he said. “I think about Florida, and I think about somewhere warmer.”
A certain price tag could persuade him to sell, Johnson said.
“[It’s] in my head,” he said. “I won’t even tell anybody, but if somebody’s not close to where I want to be, I’ll just pass it on to my son and grandson.”
Johnson said his property is the largest privately owned piece of land within a half-mile of Notre Dame Stadium, occupied by him and ten-year-old Tibetan Terrier, Sprocket.
Johnson said he would not disclose the exact amount the University offered him.
“The money is out there,” he said. “It’s a lot of money. It’s up there.”
Greg Hakanen, director of the Northeast Neighborhood Redevelopment, said in an email the University’s goal was to “find an arrangement that was acceptable to both parties, including making provision for Mr. Johnson to continue to live in the neighborhood if he wished to do so.”
“We made several proposals to build him a new residence in the immediate area, but obviously did not reach agreement,” Hakanen said.
Johnson has demonstrated commitment to serving the community of homes around him, Hakanen said.
“Johnnie Johnson is an institution in the northeast neighborhood,” Hanaken said. “He takes meticulous care of both the house and the grounds. Over the years he extended himself to elderly neighbors, helping them with homeowner tasks that were difficult for them to address. In short, he is a wonderful neighbor, and we are glad to have him in the neighborhood.”
Johnson said he has witnessed these neighbors gradually disappear in the last decade as Notre Dame bought up the properties in northeast neighborhood one by one to develop Eddy Street Commons. He said he watched as a new demographic moved into sparkling townhouses where familiar sights and people used to be.
“The most obvious change is that people who bought property around here, some don’t even live here in some of those townhouses and just come for the games,” said Johnson, “They’re super, super expensive, so that literally changed the population — the income and the whole bit.”
He said he observed a demographic shift.
“Basically it’s the money people that moved in,” he said. “We went from literally Rottweilers to fluffy dogs like Sprocket.”
Johnson joked that he would consider selling his house in exchange for Maui. He said, though, it’s impossible to put a price on the love and labor that went into his beloved home of 36 years. Johnson’s decision to stay amidst the expansion of Eddy Street is not about the money, he said.
“Some girl came up to me and said, ‘You’re a hero. You didn’t sell to Notre Dame,’” Johnson said. “And I said ‘No, I’m not a hero, I’m just living.’”