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Books and Buildings: Student housing developments not diminishing dorm occupancy

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Springfield is in the midst of a near decadelong student-housing boom. Since 2009, nearly $185 million has been spent to keep roofs over those seeking higher education.

Following the development of Eko Park in August 2009, there have been at least 20 projects developed specifically for student housing in the Springfield area, and three more developments are set to open in the next two years, according to Springfield Business Journal research. SBJ search parameters comprised multitenant student housing complexes based on proximity to campuses and the target student demographic for developers.

Even with that growth, there is no concern about students filling up the dorms at Missouri State University.

“We’re pretty close to capacity,” said Gary Stewart, director of residence life, housing and dining services at MSU.

Since the student-housing boom began almost 10 years ago, MSU’s enrollment is up 4 percent to 21,309 students in fall 2018-19, according to MSU’s website.

All first-year students are required to live on campus unless they are over the age of 21 and students need 30 credit hours, said Stewart. Those stipulations are usually met at the completion of freshman year.

Ozarks Technical Community College benefits from the expansion of student housing since its campus lacks that ability.

OTC sits in between two student-housing complexes, the 85-unit Greenway Studios on East Webster Street and the 580-bed Aspen Springfield at 1028 St. Louis St.

“The increased options for student housing give those students who are looking for a place to live when they move to Springfield more choices,” said Mark Miller, director of communications at OTC, via email. “Plus, the increased supply of student housing helps keep the cost affordable for OTC students, most of whom work part- or full-time while going to college.”

In the last decade, enrollment at OTC’s Springfield campus is down 12 percent to 7,447 students currently. In 2009, enrollment was 8,503, according to school officials.

Another local university echoed the sentiment that the housing boom isn’t affecting on-campus living.

“I don’t think we’re seeing a significant impact from that trend at this time,” said Mike Brothers, executive director of university relations at Drury University. “We are a traditional residential liberal arts college experience and part of that means living on campus.”

The 38,000-square-foot University Suites was added to the Drury campus in 2012 for its upperclassmen student population. It can house 72 students.

“It’s typically full. That’s the most desirable on campus,” said Brothers.

Drury has three residence halls, which Brothers said are 95 percent full, reserved for freshman and first-time college students.

Drury has a residency requirement, and to live off campus, students have to be a junior or senior and over the age of 21. Brothers said there are some exceptions, like medical needs or living within 30 miles of campus with family.

The demand to live off-campus at Evangel University is waning, according to school housing officials.

“They actually have had less requests than in years past,” said Evangel spokesman Paul Logsdon.

In the six residence halls at Evangel, there are 1,030 occupied beds out of the 1,272 available for both male and female students, said Pam Smallwood, Evangel’s housing director.

Students at Evangel that take less than nine credit hours, live at home with family, are married, over the age of 23 or have a special circumstance are allowed to live off-campus, according to the school’s off-campus information criteria.

More on the way
The developments are still coming.

St. Louis-based Cornerstone Development Inc. is building a 348-bed complex at 430 E. Walnut St. slated to open in August 2019.

The $23 million project dubbed Vue on Walnut is on schedule and leasing for the complex will begin in the next few weeks, said Cornerstone Development President Sam Chimento.

Another current project in excess of $20 million is the new dormitory for MSU. At Holland Avenue and Madison Street, it’s scheduled to be completed by Bryan Properties LLC in fall 2020.

The dorm’s estimated cost is $24 million and it will have room for 400 students, according to MSU officials.

With the new developments near MSU, the company behind the Bear Line service has not considered adding additional lines.

“Most of the builders are building closer to campus instead of farther away,” said owner Howard Fisk of Fisk Transportation LLC. “It’s become a bigger campus community versus one spread out all over Springfield.”

The last route added was a temporary one used for shuttling to Ellis Hall and Hill Hall two years ago.

“They tend to do experimental routes when things like this pop up,” Fisk said.

Fisk does not consider the housing boom a detriment to business, adding most Bear Line stops are within a few blocks of the new properties developed. 

How the boom happened
The project that kicked off the boom for student housing came in 2009 with the development of the $8.5 million Eko Park Apartments at Catalpa Street and Kansas Expressway, two miles southwest of MSU.

Beacon Commons, University Suites, Deep Elm, The Jefferson and Beacon Park Apartments were the next developments to follow.

In the summer of 2015, four new housing options came on the market. Near Hammons Student Center, the 40,000-square-foot The Qube opened at a cost of $7 million. The 32,000-square-foot, $4 million Greenway Studios went up at 934-940 E. Webster St., near OTC, and Pad Madison, the $2 million project at 405 E. Madison Ave. also opened that summer. The market also attracted Austin, Texas-based Aspen Heights Construction LLC to build the $40 million Aspen Springfield across from Hammons Field. That was the fourth property to open that summer.

Recently, the final phases of Bear Village were completed with the total cost of the project now at $48 million.

800 South opened in August at 830 S. Robberson Ave. and already is at 99 percent capacity, according to past SBJ reporting. 

The newly developed Boomer Town Studios has a majority of students as tenants, said Brent Brown.

“From what I’m seeing and hearing about the overall occupancy is we’re still filling these places up,” Brown said.

Brown also owns Greenway Studios and said that property is about 60 percent students.

One of the largest development projects costing nearly $30 million was Park East by The Vecino Group.

Sky Eleven and Cresco are the most recent additions. The Sky Eleven project was realized in 2015 after a $15.5 million renovation of the Woodruff building at 331 Park Central East. The 60,000 square-foot Cresco building, a $5.5 million project, was completed in August 2017.

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