College Hill: Part 2

Mary Lou Herring

“I don’t think this development project is responsive to what students are looking for in the

College Hill area and I strongly disagree with public funds being utilized to assist with this

particular development project.”

Improvements in the College Hill neighborhood northeast of campus would be welcomed by students and residents alike. However, entertainment, employment and housing opportunities typically found close to other campuses are not likely to be found in the proposed development. I don’t think this development project is responsive to what students are looking for in the College Hill area and I strongly disagree with public funds being utilized to assist with this particular development project.

The Project

The project primarily provides residential living targeted toward students, with rental rates ranging from $595 for a 1-bedroom to $1,200 for a 4-bedroom apartment. Twenty six condominiums, at $175,000 per unit, are also to be built as part of this project. Vacant apartments currently surround the campus, at rates under $400 per unit. While these are not new, the new apartments proposed in this project won’t be very new either after a year or two.

The proposed retail use includes a liquor store, a restaurant/bar (with emphasis on restaurant according to one of the developers), an ice cream shop, a pizza/Chinese food shop, and a sandwich shop. Other shops will provide services such as a nail salon, a tanning salon, mailing and photo copy services, a dry cleaner, a unisex hair shop, and video rental. Not exactly a thriving entertainment center or area to attract students to just “hang out”. It appears that the developers have been more influenced by the administration than by the students as to what is desirable in the College Hill area.

You’re not likely to see a replacement for the Club Cosmos or any of the previous establishments that caused former students to refer to this as a “thriving entertainment center.” Since the developer is specifically targeting regional or national tenants, you are not likely to see the unique or eccentric venues found near most campuses.

Public Funding

Private development should take place with private funds. Then developers do their best job with assessing economic feasibility. In this case, everyone is just too excited about the money this outside developer is bringing into this community. But we should not lose sight of the fact that the City of Topeka established this Redevelopment District, eligible for $5 million of bonds, backed by the taxpayers. So, if the project fails to rise to the ambitious expectations set forth in the Feasibility Study prepared for the developers, the taxpayers will be making the bond payments. The numbers are carefully calculated to provide just enough increase in tax revenues from sales and increased property values to provide for the bond payments. If these calculations are artificially high, bond payments will have to come out of general funds. At the same time, the developers could potentially still be making money on the rents paid by students and retail tenants. This public purpose needed for TIF funds is not sufficient in this project to ask the taxpayers to assume this level of risk.

Good Neighbor

Washburn University has been perceived as a bully in this project, effectively pushing former tenants out as speculation surrounding this project has developed until reaching the point where the city will be required to exercise its power of eminent domain to satisfy the developers. No significant discussion has taken place as to how the project could be modified to accommodate the property owners that want to stay in the neighborhood.

A better approach would have been for Washburn University to boldly make the first real investment in this neighborhood by building the new office space for Washburn Endowment Association in this neighborhood, rather than renovating a property that was purchased at 45 percent over its appraised value on MacVicar. With that type of local investment in the neighborhood, the safety issues could have diminished to the point where other small, local businesses would have considered moving into the neighborhood. This would likely create a slower, but more successful, change in the College Hill area that ultimately is driven by the real economic rules of supply and demand.

Mary Lou Herring

Topeka Resident