News From Terre Haute, Indiana

July 14, 2013

EDITORIAL: Student housing project holds benefits for city and university

Despite recent setback, partners should push on

The Tribune-Star

---- — Indiana State University and its partners in a proposed student residence center on Wabash Avenue were hoping for a big week last week in the development of their ground-breaking project.

They hoped Wednesday would bring approval from the State Budget Committee, then on Thursday they would begin to hear support from the Terre Haute City Council on a request from the city’s Department of Redevelopment to issue bonds worth up to $1.25 million to help pay the estimated $17 million for the project.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned, primarily with the state at a meeting in Indianapolis. The State Budget Committee decided to postpone action on the ISU proposal for a month while it sought answers to questions concerning the project. In the wake of the state’s delay, the question was raised as to whether the City Council should delay until next month its vote on the bond issue, which otherwise could come as early as this week.

Last week’s turn of events is no doubt frustrating. All involved had hoped to move ahead quickly on the project, which would provide housing for 228 students in the heart of downtown. But we hope ISU and its partners will not be knocked off course.

ISU’s proposal is clearly innovative in nature, so a certain amount of confusion or discomfort at the state level is understandable, although the Commission on Higher Education had previously reviewed and approved the project.

ISU is partnering with local developer Thompson Thrift, which under terms of the proposal would be paid $1.05 million per year by ISU to lease the top three floors of the four-story structure as residential housing. The developer would then lease ground floor space for retail use.

Unusual, yes. But the concept allows ISU to expand its student housing options while not having to delve into the retail-development business itself.

The city’s role in the partnership is to approve the bond issue, which developers say is essential to make the project financially viable to investors.

Despite what we believe will be only a short delay, we encourage everyone to remember just what this project means for continuing the momentum of downtown Terre Haute’s rebirth. ISU’s presence and deeper campus expansion into the downtown area give added vibrancy and stability to the area and should spark further development from the private sector.

The project is based on sound principles, has been thoroughly studied and is part of ISU’s master plan. And those are among the reasons so many key people are confident the proposal to the state will be approved.

In fact, state Sen. Tim Skinner, a Terre Haute Democrat who is a nonvoting member of the budget committee, told the City Council last week that he is working hard to answer questions from other committee members and is determined to convince them to approve the proposal next month.

Despite the state’s delay, we encourage the City Council to stick with the plan and approve the bond issue proposal at its Thursday meeting. It would be helpful for state officials to see such support from an important local government entity.

Likewise, we urge the State Budget Committee to study the proposal intently, get its questions answered completely and vote to approve it. It’s a good project that will have long-term, positive benefits to both ISU and Terre Haute. It is worthy of the committee’s support.