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April 30, 2013

PHOTO UPDATE: Downtown ISU housing slated for 2015

Officials unveil plans for $17.5 million, four-story masonry structure

TERRE HAUTE — A much-anticipated student housing project in downtown Terre Haute is finally moving forward.

The project, which will be between Fifth and Sixth streets on the north side of Wabash Avenue, involves a partnership between Indiana State University and Thompson Thrift Development.

On Monday, officials unveiled plans for a four-story masonry structure that will include three floors of student housing, with retail space on the ground floor. The overall project cost is estimated at $17.5 million, said Paul Thrift, president of Thompson Thrift Development.

Thompson Thrift will construct and own the building, and ISU will lease the residential space once the structure is completed. Thompson Thrift will lease the ground-floor retail space.

ISU administrators plan to present a 30-year lease agreement to the university board of trustees on Friday that will give the university control over the student housing portion of the building, which will include an estimated 228 beds.

“We’re very excited to actually be moving forward,” said Diann McKee, ISU vice president for business affairs.

The announcement culminates years of study and follows through on the university’s 2009 master plan.

“To me, this is a very transformational project for that part of downtown,” said Paul Thrift, president of Thompson Thrift Development. “I believe it will spur other activity in the immediate area, and that’s what the university has envisioned — for this to be a catalyst” for other downtown development.

The foot traffic that will be generated by the students 24 hours a day, seven days a week “is a real win for downtown” and will help attract retailers, food establishments and service-oriented providers, Thrift said.

The proposed structure, which is still being designed, will preserve the facades of the site’s existing buildings, except for the former Rogers Jewelers.

“There is a lot of history there,” Thrift said. “We’re excited to see that part of the block preserved.”  

ISU and Thompson Thrift did investigate the possibility of retaining and renovating the buildings, “but it was very cost prohibitive,” McKee said. “We have to keep in mind at the end of the day our students are the ones who are paying to live there. We need to make sure we have an affordable product.”

The new portion of the structure will connect to the existing facades. A temporary steel structure will be constructed to secure the facades during construction.

Construction will take about 18 months, and the intent is for the ISU housing to be available for the start of the 2015 academic year.

While the lease agreement going to trustees is “a major step along the road,” McKee said, there are other approvals that are required.

The agreement is also subject to the approval of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education and the State Budget Committee. Those approvals are expected this summer.

It’s estimated the project will generate about $180,000 per year in additional property taxes, said Eric Wojak, project manager for Thompson Thrift.

To make the project affordable, the developer plans on seeking an incentive from the city. It will seek to capture 75 percent of the property tax increases generated by the project through Tax Increment Financing; TIF is a method to use future gains in taxes to finance current improvements.

That funding would help finance the project and repay a bond, Thrift said.

The lease agreement that ISU trustees will consider on Friday calls for the university to pay Thompson Thrift $385 per month per bed, with annual adjustments based on the increase in on-campus room and board or 1.25 percent, whichever is greater.

The university’s lease payments will be paid by university housing operations from housing and dining system revenue.

ISU also will pay to retain the historic facades of the existing buildings, estimated at about $2 million, McKee said. That also will be funded through housing and dining system revenue.

The university will be responsible for all maintenance and operating costs of the residential portion of the facility, including any real estate taxes.

The housing will feature four-bedroom suites, with two bedrooms on each side of a living and kitchen area. Student rates for off-campus housing will be based on annual lease payments and cost of operations and maintenance for the facility.

The housing is aimed at upper-class students — it will not be for freshmen, McKee said

The project provides students with more choices and privacy in housing as well as more student-oriented commercial and retail offerings adjacent to the campus, she said.  

No information is yet available on potential retail tenants for the first floor, Thrift said. The developer will be talking to food and service-oriented providers, he said. The intent is to complement — not duplicate — what already exists downtown, he said.

Thompson Thrift does not yet own the properties between Fifth and Sixth streets, he said. “We are under agreement to purchase the property, which we hopefully will do in late summer,” Thrift said.

Mike and Kal Ellis own most of the properties, which are vacant, while the city owns the lot at Fifth and Wabash.

Thrift does not anticipate any problems taking possession of the properties. “We’re under contractual agreement with the owners,” he said.

Once all approvals are secured, work on the project is scheduled to begin late this summer. New construction — after a demolition phase — should begin by next spring, Thrift said.

The project is “very early in the design process,” he emphasized. A preliminary design completed more than a year ago “will evolve.”

New building architecture will be consistent with the downtown area in general and the facades of the existing on-site buildings, he said. The exterior will be 100 percent masonry, a combination of brick and stone. The building will extend from Fifth to Sixth street.

Thrift praised ISU for its commitment to downtown. “I see it as another terrific  building block for the overall renaissance of downtown,”  he said.

In a prepared statement, ISU president Dan Bradley stated, “Indiana State is proud to be a part of the downtown Terre Haute community and recognizes that a vital downtown is critical to a vital university and vice versa.”

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