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Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016 12:10 am

Downtown student housing coming this fall

Project proceeding despite TIF denial

One of Bluffstone’s numerous apartment properties.

 

Starting this fall, the University of Illinois Springfield will offer housing for graduate students who want to live downtown.

A partnership between UIS, Town and Country Bank and Bluffstone, LLC., a student housing development firm, will give graduate students a new option for off-campus housing in the downtown area. Bluffstone, LLC will build a residential complex for students called Villas Downtown Springfield, located on Third and Madison streets.

Kelly Young, director of student housing operations at Bluffstone, believes Springfield is a great place for a student residential complex.

 “We know that young people want to live, work and spend money in the same area,” Young said in an interview with Illinois Times.

Since 2012, when a UIS survey revealed the desire for student housing downtown, Dr. Clarice Ford, interim vice chancellor for student affairs, and Dr. Van Vieregge, assistant vice chancellor for student services, have been advocates for the project.

Ford and Vieregge agreed that having UIS students reside downtown is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the university and the city’s downtown.

“Now, UIS residents will have a voice in the downtown area, providing an opportunity for say in new vendors that may be looking to come to here,” said Ford.

Villas Downtown Springfield will have space for 92 residents. The building will offer studio and two-bedroom apartments ranging from $750 to $1,000 per month. There will be a workout area, laundry facility, a coffee shop and a maintenance staff.

“Our job is to promote the opportunity to students and to make sure that the complex follows the city building codes,” said Vieregge.

Applications for tenants may be available as soon as this May. The complex will be available for students in time for the upcoming school year in the fall of 2016.  

Despite the city denying a $750,000 tax increment financing (TIF) request for the project, permits have been issued for the construction of the L-shaped, four-story building located at Third and Madison streets.

Bluffstone is taking on the full construction cost at $8.9 million. Town and Country Bank will finance the property.

Steve Gnuse, senior vice president of commercial banking at Town and Country Bank, believes that this project can have a positive effect on downtown and will benefit the city in two ways.

“First, this will be a very attractive project on a very unsightly parking lot,” Gnuse said. “As a result of this project, the city will see a significant increase to real estate tax income.”

Gnuse also said nearly 100 students will be living and working in the area.  

“The area may see an uptick in business all around,” Gnuse said.

The call for student housing downtown started in 2012, when Daniel Garcia, a former student affairs intern at UIS, released the results of a survey stating that 46 percent of students would be interested in renting an apartment from the university in the downtown area.

In 2013, The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce retained Bowen National Research to conduct a housing needs assessment for downtown Springfield.

The report revealed that to keep a balanced housing market through 2017, at least 450 additional rental units would need to be available to people who have a household income under $25,000. The report also cited that medical and college student housing should be considered as part of future downtown housing plans.

Currently, downtown student housing is very limited for medical students at St. John’s College of Nursing in Springfield.

“We are seeing more students from farther away apply who are looking for housing” said Brenda Jeffers, chancellor and professor at St. John’s College of Nursing. “Therefore, we think additional downtown living options would benefit our student population.”

Downtown Springfield, Inc. also believes student housing will be a hit for the area.

“Having more people living and working downtown is going to create a stronger demand for small businesses to provide additional residential amenities and will also be a boon to our current landscape of retailers and restaurants,” said Lisa Clemmons Stott, executive director of Downtown Springfield, Inc.

“Bluffstone has created a domino effect for marketplace housing,” said Vieregge. “The project will add vibrancy, help create better jobs and bring amenities from the suburbs back to the Springfield community.”

Contact Brittany Hilderbrand at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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