By Brandi Makuski
City leaders are mulling a development proposal that puts 400 new bedrooms on the city’s north side.
Plan commissioners on Monday were presented with a concept by Marty Graff for a two-building, 400-bed student rental unit, centered around a courtyard. A third building facing Division St. would house 16,000-square-feet of retail space.
The site is currently the home of an embattled Kmart store, which announced last week it would close by January.
Graff, who already owns the Kmart building, said he and his partners “see a need for a purpose-built, student-specific property” and felt that site was perfect.
“Something with amenities within walking distance to the campus,” he said. “We want to support current students and support growth.”
The initial concept calls for two four-story buildings, each with 67 units and 204 bedrooms. Early per-person rental estimates were in the $600-$700 range.
Graff said he had already chosen a Chicago architect and a Madison-based management company that specializes in student housing. He said particulars like green space, rent and parking would be finalized later.
A review of the site plan concept isn’t uncommon at the City Plan Commission. Community Development Director Michael Ostrowski said conceptual reviews are typically done so developers of larger projects can have a preemptive idea of what city leaders are looking for before creating a final site plan.
“We do these so they don’t spend time and money and resources putting forth a very detailed plan, then ultimately [have to] make a whole bunch of changes,” Ostrowski said.
Wiza called the project “exciting”, saying it addressed a need for quality housing in the community and concerns over infill. He also noted it would correct the unsightliness of the large parking lot that currently exists in front of the Kmart building.
Wiza wasn’t alone in his excitement. Ald. Shaun Morrow said he felt the site already appeared blighted.
“My fear is that it would go bankrupt and be vacant for years like the old Copps and the old Walmart on Highway 10,” Morrow said. “We have an opportunity now so that we’ll have something in there [quickly] when Kmart closes.”
Several other council members in attendance on Monday also said they were excited and supported the development, offering suggestions about green space and targeting non-students as possible tenants.
“I’m so excited to see this,” said Ald. Tori Jennings. “It sounds like you’re directing this just towards students. This location is…you’re right there by Schmeeckle [Reserve], you’re close to Sentry [Insurance], so another consideration is, do you want to mix up the kind of units you have here, so that you have high-end, student studios…you have a mix.”
Jennings pointed out having a multi-generational mix of tenants would “elevate the behavior of the students” and offer engaging living space for seniors.
But largely absent from the discussion was the city’s recently-completed housing study, which indicated there was no real need for additional student housing, but rather quality rental space for non-students.
“We just finished a housing study that said student housing is the last thing the community wants,” said Travis Haines from Candlewood Property Management. Haines’ company manages several hundred rental properties across the area, as well as the city’s own Edgewater Manor.
“There was a heavy emphasis on that housing study about bringing quality, non-student housing to the area,” he said, also noting a recent decline in enrollment at UW-Stevens Point, as well as difficultly filling existing student rentals.
The commission took no action on the proposal, but Wiza said he expects an updated site plan to come before city leaders in the future.