Decades in the making, Notre Dame’s vision for a dense, walkable college town adjacent to campus is finally a reality.
September 18, 2023
The University of Notre Dame's vision for a dense, walkable “college town” joining campus to the wider community is nearly complete after almost 20 years of planning and construction, succeeding despite economic headwinds including a global recession and subsequent housing crash and a worldwide pandemic, the effects of which continue to reverberate across the real estate market.
Two Hotels 119-room Fairfield Inn 164-room Embassy Suites
1,276-space parking garage
2.5M+ annual visitors
Work concluded recently on the final 14 townhomes at Eddy Street Commons, the $315 million mixed-use development along Eddy Street in South Bend.
The result of a public-private partnership between Notre Dame, Kite Realty Group, and the City of South Bend, among others, the project on University-owned land south of campus broke ground in 2008. It proceeded in three phases, spanning the 2009–12 global financial crisis and the ongoing but receding coronavirus pandemic.
Phase I, from Angela Boulevard to Napoleon Street, consisted of 266 apartments, 78 townhomes, and 123 condominiums, as well as 170,000 square feet of office, retail, and restaurant space, a 119-room limited-service hotel, and a five-level, 1,276-car parking garage. The first stores, restaurants, and apartments opened in August 2009, completely transforming the area while creating a distinct southern gateway to campus. The remaining apartments and for-sale residences were delivered gradually over time.
Phase II, from Napoleon to Howard Street, consisted of more apartments and townhomes, as well as restaurant space and a new Robinson Community Learning Center. A 164-room full-service hotel, delayed by the financial crisis, also was added along Angela Boulevard. It was completed in 2018.
Phase III, south of Howard Street, consists of a new Trader Joe’s, a bank, and 28 new townhomes in the former “five points” area. A single outlot at the corner of Eddy and Howard streets, west of Trader Joe’s, remains available for lease.
Today, the area, once marked by substandard housing and a glut of vacant and abandoned homes and lots, buzzes with activity, invigorated by dozens of new shops and restaurants—including national brands like Urban Outfitters and Chipotle and local favorites like O’Rourke’s and Purely Pressed—plus more than 700 new apartments and townhomes and two new hotels.
Meanwhile, multiple residential housing efforts have complemented Eddy Street Commons by increasing the supply of market-rate and affordable housing.
The Notre Dame Avenue Housing Program, in which the University acquired properties on and near Notre Dame Avenue, demolished blighted houses, subdivided lots as needed, and sold buildable lots to University faculty and staff for construction of new homes built in accordance with guidelines established by Notre Dame.
The Triangle, a redevelopment of the severely blighted residential neighborhood located immediately south and east of Eddy Street Commons. The Triangle was redeveloped by the Northeast Neighborhood Revitalization Organization (NNRO), made up of both institutional funding members (Notre Dame, the City of South Bend, and other entities that have changed over time) and neighborhood residents.
Affordable housing throughout the Northeast Neighborhood developed in concert with the city and local nonprofits, including South Bend Heritage Foundation and Habitat for Humanity of St. Joseph County.
Hundreds of millions of dollars of private investment in new single-family homes, apartments, and townhomes.
The result: a dense, walkable city-within-a-city, vastly enhancing the transition between campus and the surrounding community and contributing to tax and population growth and quality of life and place in South Bend and the entire region.
According to census data, the Northeast Neighborhood, which encompasses Eddy Street Commons, grew by more than 600 residents from 2010 to 2020, accounting for a quarter of all population growth in the city during that time. Property values in the neighborhood have increased 11-fold since 2003. Crime has also fallen.
Tim Sexton is associate vice president for public affairs at Notre Dame, where he focuses on state, local government, and community relations.
“Overflowing with shops, restaurants, offices, and living spaces, Eddy Street Commons has succeeded in creating a hip and vibrant college-town atmosphere adjacent to the University,” said Sexton, who, until recently, served as president of the NNRO, a nonprofit dedicated to facilitating redevelopment and fostering diversity within the Northeast Neighborhood. “In doing so, it has helped to bridge the gap between campus and the surrounding community and improve ‘town-gown’ relations. And it has served as a catalyst for additional investment in the broader northeast neighborhood and beyond.”
He added, “We are grateful to our partners, Kite Realty Group and the City of South Bend, and to the entire community for supporting the project and making it such a success.”
Led by then-Mayor Stephen Luecke, the City of South Bend, especially, provided critical support for the project. Leveraging approximately $35 million in tax increment finance dollars, the city financed necessary street and sewer improvements and paid for construction of the parking garage, without which the project would not have moved forward.
“Eddy Street Commons stands as a testament to a shared vision and true partnership,” said Tom McGowan, president and chief operating officer of Kite Realty Group. “From our initial conceptual work with the University of Notre Dame and the City of South Bend, to the vibrant mixed-use development that exists today, we could not be more proud of what was collectively accomplished. The creation of a landmark at the University’s doorstep that offers retail, residences, dining, office, and a new state-of-the-art Robinson Community Learning Center is something that will be enjoyed for many generations.”
Planning for Success
That Eddy Street Commons exists at all is due in no small part to Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy, C.S.C., former University president and current president emeritus, whose vision and leadership created the initiative as well as the intellectual and conceptual framework for the project.
Keenly aware of the way in which cities and institutions rise and fall in tandem, Father Malloy, who grew up in Washington, D.C., before moving to South Bend to attend Notre Dame, steered the University toward a more proactive and collaborative approach to community and economic development and engagement during his 18 years as president.
At his direction and with support from the Board of Trustees, the University joined with South Bend and other local stakeholders to form the NNRO in 2000, laying the foundation for Eddy Street Commons while establishing a collaborative model for campus-community engagement that endures to this day.
As a first order of business, the group, with support from campus leaders including University Trustee Fritz Duda and Director of Northeast Neighborhood Redevelopment Greg Hakanen, organized and financed a comprehensive plan for the then-struggling neighborhood and issued a request for proposals to execute the plan.
In doing so, it worked closely with neighbors to overcome deep-seated trust issues. For years, the University had cultivated an arms-length relationship with the community, so much so that campus was said to exist in a bubble. Now, suddenly, it wanted to engage with the community very deliberately. Residents were naturally skeptical.
Lu Ella Webster, whose home was among the first acquired for the project, originally dismissed it as a cynical land grab.
“That’s what it seemed like,” she said as part of a written history of the project published by Notre Dame in 2013. “It did feel as if they were moving us out so they could move in, and so, we fought it.”
Marguerite Taylor grew up on Frances Street in the 1940s and ’50s and has spent her entire life in the Northeast Neighborhood. She is the daughter of the late Renelda Robinson, for whom the Robinson Center is named, and is an original member of the NNRO.
“There was so much skepticism in the beginning of this that (Notre Dame was) going to take our land and kick us out,” Taylor said. “But none of that happened. None of that happened.”
As Hakanen, who came to South Bend from Illinois, recalled, “When I arrived here, I arrived with a sort of naïve assumption that everyone in town loved Notre Dame. In fact, there was a very high level of distrust of the University among the residents in the Northeast Neighborhood.”
Hakanen credited Father Malloy and the NNRO with helping to dissolve that distrust.
“When Monk Malloy became president, his thing was, ‘We’ve got to build a relationship with our neighborhood. We have to do something to the neighborhood.’ And he did.”– Lu Ella Webster, South Bend Resident
“Under the leadership of Monk Malloy, the NNRO was formed, and it was formed with the recognition that whatever we did (in the Northeast Neighborhood), we had to get the neighborhood residents on board, and the only way to do that was to make them part of the process,” Hakanen said.
One approach, and a critical one: grant residents equal representation—alongside Notre Dame and other funding partners—on the NNRO board. To this day, residents occupy seven of the 14 seats on the board.
“The design of the NNRO was meant to communicate, ‘Look, this is your neighborhood; we want whatever happens here to work for both of us,’” Hakanen said.
Webster, for her part, eventually came around to the project. Today, she lives a few blocks from Eddy Street on Howard Street. She walks to work at the Robinson Community Learning Center, where she is the adult programs coordinator.
“When Monk Malloy became president, his thing was, ‘We’ve got to build a relationship with our neighborhood. We have to do something to the neighborhood,’” she told Notre Dame Magazine in 2020. “And he did.”
‘It's going to happen’
Still, not everyone was sold.
As details of the project emerged, so did the critics. It was too ambitious. It would draw business and investment away from downtown, which was finally emerging from the economic doldrums of the ’80s and ’90s. It would increase property values and displace residents. It would destroy habitat and threaten wildlife within the “Notre Dame Woods”—essentially an overgrown brownfield along the east side of Eddy Street.
Responding to those concerns and as part of the zoning process, the University agreed to a number of written commitments for the project. It agreed to incorporate greenspace and bicycle infrastructure into the project. It also agreed to adopt environmentally friendly design and construction methods and humanely trap and relocate wildlife within the project site.
Following five hours of public comment and discussion, the city common council approved the project by unanimous vote during a meeting on July 17, 2007, with Mayor Luecke calling it “an investment in vitality, growth, and development.”
Residents also supported the project.
Johnnie Johnson, who lives in the same house at Eddy and Napoleon streets to this day, said, “It’s going to happen. It’s going to be good for South Bend.”
Even Taylor, an initial skeptic of the project, defended it.
In a letter to the local newspaper, she wrote, in part, “Living in the middle of a truly blighted inner-city neighborhood, the prospect of new housing, shops, people, restaurants, landscaped green space and bike trails in this area is very exciting. This development will bring new life and energy to this old established area of the city.”
And it did.
“I’m happy with how it turned out,” Taylor said, crediting Notre Dame and the NNRO for taking such an inclusive approach to the project. “We had a ton of meetings, and when I say a ton, I mean a ton. Every part of the neighborhood was included, every part of it.”
South Bend Mayor James Mueller also praised the project.
“This partnership and project have completely transformed the Northeast Neighborhood and helped set a new course for our city,” Mueller said. “Working side-by-side with our community, the University of Notre Dame and Kite Realty show how big things can happen when everyone works together.”
What though the odds
It wasn’t all smooth sailing.
Kite broke ground on the project in June 2008. Three months later, Lehman Brothers, the Wall Street investment firm, collapsed, ushering in the Great Recession. At the time, Kite had yet to close on a critical construction loan, Hakanen said, and would not do so until late December. Meanwhile, the future of the project hung in the balance.
“I give major credit to (Kite) for getting that to happen,” Hakanen said of the loan closing. “And if that doesn’t happen, everything falls apart.”
He credits the unique structure of the agreement between Notre Dame and Kite for helping to secure the loan. Among other things, the agreement called for Kite to lease rather than buy the majority of land from Notre Dame. And it allowed Kite to postpone the lease payments until each phase of the project was completed. From a financial perspective, this shifted much of the risk to the back end of the project.
“The genius of the structure allowed the project to continue through the worst economic time since the Great Depression,” Hakanen said, praising Duda along with fellow Notre Dame alumni Jerry Claeys and Ed Coppola, both experts in real estate, for coming up with the idea as members of a special advisory committee for the project.
The recession also delayed certain aspects of the project, including the second hotel.
Still, commenting on the project in 2015, Scott Ford, then-director of community investment for the city, declared it a success. “It’s absolutely remarkable a project of this scale, scope, and complexity came online in the worst economic environment in the last 80 years,” Ford, now associate vice president of economic development for Notre Dame, told the local newspaper. “It has transformed space on a campus edge to serve as a destination in what was a field. For lack of a better word, it creates a place.”
Coinciding with the start of Phase III of the project, the coronavirus pandemic added yet another level of complexity to the undertaking, temporarily halting many construction projects while disrupting supply chains and upending the commercial real estate market.
It also exposed the divide between those on opposite ends of the income spectrum when it comes to issues such as health and wellness; access to quality, affordable housing and transportation; educational and employment opportunities; and financial literacy.
Sensing an opportunity, the NNRO embarked on a reset. Working with residents and others, it developed a plan to shift its strategic focus from the built environment to the human environment with the aim of supporting and empowering especially lower-income residents to lead better, more financially secure lives.
Already, the group is working with Habitat for Humanity to build as many as six new, affordable homes in the Northeast Neighborhood with help from Notre Dame students, faculty, staff, and alumni. It also created a community land trust—the first of its kind in the state—to help offset the rising short- and long-term costs of homeownership for low-to middle-income families in the area.
“For the past 23 years, the NNRO has focused on restoring and improving the built environment to address the very serious issue of blight, which, left unchecked, erodes property values and contributes to crime and disinvestment in afflicted communities,” Sexton said. “Having substantially turned the corner on that problem, the organization is now engaged in improving the human environment, with the aim of narrowing the gap between those on the upper and lower levels of the income scale. We look forward to working with residents and local institutions to ensure equal access and opportunities for all residents, in housing as well as employment, health care, and other areas of need.”
Meanwhile, private sector investment continues apace, with no fewer than four large-scale development projects, representing hundreds of new apartment and condo units, in various stages of planning or construction in and around the Northeast Neighborhood, particularly along the busy Eddy Street/South Bend Avenue corridor.
That’s by design, according to Hakanen, recalling an early conversation with University Architect Doug Marsh in which Marsh, also vice president for facilities design and operations, stressed Notre Dame’s critical yet narrow role in Northeast Neighborhood redevelopment and economic development more generally.
“I forget what prompted it, but he said, ‘Greg, the goal here is to get the ball rolling and let nature take its course.’ And what I understood him to mean, and I’m sure he did mean this,” he said, “is we, the University, want to create enough critical mass of a certain quality and a certain flavor” that private investment will naturally follow.
By that measure, he said, the project can only be seen as a success.