Friday, May 18, 2007

Practice progress?

A friend of mine was at the UND night for his ND club the other night, and a discussion of the Joyce Center plans were part of the presentation. In the words of Roscoe P. Coltrane, there's good news, boss.

For one, the athletic department has officially requested the North Dome of the JC be made an athletics-only facility, which will allow them not only to create the "building within a building" hockey facility they want but also will create enough space for quality practice facilities for both of the basketball and volleyball teams. From what was said, it appears each of the basketball teams will get their own facility while volleyball will share one (which they can do because their seasons do not overlap). This would also allow them to reclaim The Pit for weight training and other ancillary functions.

For two, at least for those of you who have advocated such a move, there's an effort underway to put at least part of the student section closer to the court. I'm still trying to run the details down (and will update this if I hear about them), but it certainly appears from this picture there's a more permanent concrete barrier (along with some vertical spacing) between the upper and lower sections.

Further bulletins as events warrant.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Bricks and Mortar

It's getting to the point where the Virgin Mary will have to start wearing a hard hat.

Announcements over the last week highlight ND's planned campus transformation, including four new dorms, a new Law School, a new Engineering building, and, yes, my favorite project, the improvements to the Joyce Center. There was also new information on Eddy St. Commons, including an update on the details that included the diagram below.

Let me be clear, I'm all for progress. Some of the projects listed, particularly the one about which I've ranted for years, are sorely overdue. While I'm not thrilled at the loss of the University Club, of which I have very fond memories from growing up, that's the kind of thing that can be relocated with minimal effect. And I haven't decided whether or not the missus and I are picking up niches in Cedar Grove -- I'd had my heart set on my ashes being scattered all over campus, but a central location is nice.

As usual, however, I have concerns. Those concerns center around the Eddy Street project, and I'm sure it's no surprise to anyone that they have to do with ND's ability to follow through correctly on what they plan to do.

Eddy Street, like the Joyce Center project, is one of those "unique opportunity"-type efforts. What ND decides to do (or not do) here will affect the community for decades, if not longer. Although the current Eddy Street plans are part of a more grand plan to redevelop the area down to Five Corners, the retail footprint will be the anchor for everything else that is done, and if the anchor is shoddy, the project will drift with the winds. And one of the things that makes me fear potential half-assedness is ND's planned micro-managing of the tenants in that retail footprint.

ND has said they will not allow "toxic uses" of the area, which apparently has already ruled out bars. There are other rules affecting this, such as the area already being maxed out on liquor licenses, and I'm not in favor of dives like Bookmakers springing up there. But if ND goes too far in interpreting this "toxic use" rule (I know, ND going overboard on something? Perish the thought!), they could end up with a sterile environment that no one finds interesting. Nice restaurants with bars included and outdoor seating areas are a magnet for the kind of participation ND says it wants. They should be included, if not given priority.

Another red flag is the plan for the residential community. The vision, according to those in charge of planning, is a community of "yuppies and retirees". The retiree angle makes sense, as a lot of older ND alums/fans of means have purchased condos in South Bend in recent years. On the yuppie side, the group apparently wishes to pull some of the folks who currently view Granger as their target location.

The problem: Neither of those groups have children.

To be blunt, you can't build a strong community around childless yuppies because they're at that "fancy free" part of their life. If they feel like trying out a new place, they do it. They have no roots holding them to any particular community. If and when Eddy Street loses its charm, they'll move on.

The Eddy Street planners are shooting themselves in the foot by not making at least a token accommodation for children. As a parent, I can say with authority that nothing changes your life faster than having a child, and once that happens, that re-prioritizing leads you to settle down. It's hard to pack up and move to that cool new subdivision across town when you have to consider where little Johnny and Betty will go to school and who they will play with and how the move will affect them. If you want to build a strong community, that community has to include fully-fledged families moreso than vapid 20-somethings.

The yuppie focus also seems counterproductive. While prices haven't been released, those prices will have to be in the range of the current market in order to get the yuppies to buy in. Proximity to ND is of value to people who are currently far away from it, which might get your retirees in the door. But it'll have no value to Joe Schmoe who works in Mishawaka or Elkhart and can get a townhome a lot cheaper two or three miles away. So it's not like the yuppies (or anyone, for that matter) will be willing to pay premium prices. My guess is they'll end up with retirees and people buying units for the purpose of renting them out for home football weekends, and I'm not sure that's what they had in mind.

But the final concern hangs over both of those like a cloud -- neither of them talk about students.

If one of the purposes of the project is the improvement of town-gown relationships, you can't just bring professors or staff people in there and say, "There, problem fixed." The students must be involved. They're usually centrally involved in the alleged problems in the ND/SB tango, and they're the ones to whom both ND and South Bend should be reaching out because they're the ones who potentially can create long-lasting better feelings between the groups.

But that's not happening here. Undergrads will not be targeted for any of the currently planned residential areas, and it remains to be seen what kind of rental caveats will govern the condos and townhomes. The end result could be an island of "adults" on the edge of campus, which will not attract the students, push them farther off campus to "find their fun" (and all of the dangers that creates), and do nothing to help them get along better with the South Bend community.

As I said, ND only gets one swing at this pitch. If they hit a home run, they can make drastic improvements at the school that will affect generations of ND fans both now and to come in a very positive way. If they miss.......

Edit: My apprehension increases when I read reports like this. Note to the ND folks: $300k for a condo and $500k for a townhome ain't gonna fly in the South Bend market.

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