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January 15, 2013

Proposed downtown housing project for ISU moves forward

Project targets frontage on entire 500 block of Wabash Avenue

TERRE HAUTE — With pieces of the property puzzle falling into place, a proposed downtown housing project for Indiana State University appears to be getting closer.

But the proposed project — in the 500 block of Wabash Avenue on the north side — is by no means a done deal, said Paul Thrift, president of Thompson Thrift Development, which has been hired by ISU to do pre-development and planning for a downtown student housing project.

“We continue to work with ISU to determine the feasibility and to continue our due diligence on that site,” Thrift said Monday. “We hope to be successful in redevelopment of that entire block of frontage on Wabash Avenue, but by no means are we at a point where it’s a done deal. There continues to be a lot of things we have to accomplish to make it a go.”

He was responding to some new developments related to the proposed downtown housing:

• Mike and Kaleel Ellis now own all of the property on the north side of Wabash Avenue between Fifth and Sixth streets, except for the former bus transfer center/parking lot at Fifth and Wabash.

On Dec. 13, the Ellis brothers purchased 522 and 524 Wabash Ave. from Sassafras Inc. for $200,000. Joseph H. Seliken Jr. is the president of Sassafras Inc.

• Also, on Monday, Thompson-Thrift submitted the lone bid of $118,000 to purchase the property at the northeast corner of Fifth and Wabash, which is owned by the city. The Board of Public Works took the bid under advisement.

A “notice of intent” to accept bids for the parking lot at Fifth and Wabash stated that bidders must show plans for how they plan to use the property and also how they will use adjoining properties, which are owned by Kaleel and Mike Ellis.

In its bid documents, Thompson Thrift outlined plans to build a four-story, 150- to 200-bed building stretching from Fifth to Sixth streets on the north side of Wabash Avenue.

The facility would include retail space on the first floor while the upper floors would contain student housing. The building would be a masonry structure, designed to complement other downtown architecture.

Thompson Thrift stated in the bid proposal that the property at Fifth and Wabash, “together with five adjoining lots that the company currently has under contract, will enable Thompson Thrift to construct off-campus housing for Indiana State University in a downtown location.”

Neither Thrift, nor Mike Ellis, would comment on details of the “contract.”

On Monday, Kaleel Ellis confirmed that he and his brother “acquired the last piece of property necessary for the sale of the entire block,” except for the parking lot at Fifth and Wabash.

“We are moving the train forward,” Kaleel Ellis said. “I would think in the next quarter we’ll see some movement.”

ISU and Thompson Thrift remain interested in the property, and negotiations continue, Kaleel Ellis said. “We’ve never spoken to ISU directly.”

Kaleel Ellis also said, “We all would like to see a major development occur that would affect the landscape for the next 100 years. … We’re all on the same page.”

Mike Ellis, in a separate interview on Monday, agreed that “we’re still in communication” with Thompson Thrift, and said he spoke to a Thompson Thrift representative over the weekend.

“I’m optimistic something will happen,” Mike Ellis said. “I don’t know that it will involve ISU, but I’m confident there will be a new building in that block” beneficial to Terre Haute and downtown.

He said a lot has changed from 2012 to 2013, including possible tax ramifications. “I may be less interested in selling,” Mike Ellis said. He said he and his brother might develop the site.

But he vows that whether he and his brother, Thompson Thrift or anyone else develops the area, there will be a new building on the site that blends in with existing downtown architecture, and that it would have retail space on the main floor and housing on upper floors.

Mike Ellis said if he and his brother were to develop it, the housing would be for ISU students, faculty and staff and the project would not directly involve ISU as a partner.

Thrift said his company is investing a lot of time and energy to make the project work, as is the university.

“I remain optimistic that we’re going to bring it together with a successful conclusion,” Thrift said. “There are days I’m frustrated with the time it’s taking, but at the same time, that is very much part of the development process.”

One area that is taking a lot of time is determining whether any of the buildings, or facades of the buildings, can be saved, Thrift said. “We’re spending a lot of time and money to make that determination.”

Diann McKee, ISU vice president for business affairs, concurred with Thrift’s comments.

“We remain interested in that location. We are working with Thompson Thrift as to how that can be accomplished,” she said Monday. “There are still many facets to nail down.”

She anticipates that within the next few months, and potentially the next few weeks, “we’ll know” whether the project goes forward at that site.

If the project becomes reality, Thompson Thrift would own the property and would be responsible for construction. ISU would have a master lease with Thompson Thrift and would lease space from them for use as student housing, McKee has said previously.

Reporter Howard Greninger contributed reporting to this story.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or


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