Hummer: Campustown renovations should prioritize students


Graphic: Aaron Hewit/Iowa State Daily

Property group, LANE4 is looking to develop Campustown. LANE4 is working on renovations in other places in Ames, but the Campustown facelift is of main focus for students. The blocks indicate areas LANE4 plans to revitalize. All plans are still subject to change.

Thomas Hummer

With all the controversy surrounding LANE4 and the renovation of Campustown, people seem to think there are two sides forming: those against the renovation and those in favor of it.

To me, this dichotomy seems somewhat false and oversimplified. I don’t think anybody is actually against “renovation” as a concept. What people are really against is the way that this process would be carried out and the reasons it’s being considered in the first place.

That being said, I’d like to throw in my two cents on the issue, because it’s not one that’s necessarily right or wrong. There are many factors to take into account.

As I’ve already alluded to, I’m not against some renovation in Campustown. The buildings are pretty worn down and there’s a lot of room for improvement. It doesn’t take more than a semester at Iowa State to figure that out.

But while the aesthetics around the area leave more to be desired, what really scares me is what they’re thinking of putting in and why. To me, the students should be the focus of this project, and so far there’s been talk of a hotel, grocery store and, perhaps, fine dining, a movie theater or entertainment of some kind.

Are these things really what the students want?

In a recent interview with Kayla Schantz of the Iowa State Daily, Hunter Harris, director of development for LANE4, said ISU students “should be our advisers,” and that their goal is to make Campustown “a destination that students are proud of; a place where they want to take their parents when they’re in town; and when they’re done being students and they’re alumni that they want to come back to.”

While these are noble thoughts, they don’t concern Campustown’s utility for the current student. Parents are in town a minority of the time, and while it’s nice to think of alumni, they shouldn’t be enough of a priority to even mention.

Plus, being proud of something doesn’t denote usefulness at all — I can be proud of a painting I made, but it’s still sitting on my wall doing nothing. The utility of Campustown goes beyond looks; it concerns functionality, particularly to the students.

In the brochure available through LANE4’s website, they give the statistic that the average household income within one mile — presumably of the Campustown area — is $47,555. I don’t think it’s too much to assume that if LANE4 is bothering to provide this information, they see it as a supporting statistic; as though it proves these particular kinds of businesses are needed in Campustown.

But what does average household income really have to do with the students?

There’s no way this number includes the average student, who is closer to that many dollars in debt than that much in annual salary. Plus, it only takes a few 40-something millionaires to throw that number completely off. I’m not saying this is necessarily the case, but my point is that they’re prioritizing who has a majority of the money, not who the majority of the people are. These are two entirely different things.

And I think it’s safe to assume that if you make even more than $30,000 a year, you probably have a vehicle of some kind and can go enjoy the fine dining, movie theaters and grocery stores across the rest of Ames. If not, there’s always the wonderful folks at CyRide.

No matter how much LANE4, the city of Ames, or Iowa State claim that the students are their primary concern, the justifications of their plans don’t support that claim.

What I see is a business with their own agenda to fulfill, and I don’t think the students will benefit much from these additions at all. Maybe a grocery store would be nice, but if there’s a demand for it, then someone will build it in the area and its success will be determined by how much business it gets. That’s how the free market works.

But you can hardly call it the free market at all if the current businesses are being forced out of their locations. If eminent domain is used, the city would essentially be handing over multiple business owners’ means of income to another business. I won’t get into this too much because fellow columnist Michael Belding already did a great job of addressing this aspect, but to me that would be akin to the city kicking out Village Inn and saying that a Perkins would look better.

In another interview with Kayla Schantz, Trip Ross, senior associate for LANE4, said “our hope would be to work with tenants to find an opportunity for them within the project.”

This is a nice gesture that I can get behind in theory, but it seems like an empty promise considering that the map of the projected plans is already mostly filled by parking lots, the hotel, a grocery store, etc. There may be room for some of the current businesses, but certainly not many of them.

Take into account this is all coming from a me; a guy who can count the number of times he has been to the Welch Avenue bars on two hands,  and the number of times these experiences have actually been fun on one hand.

But it’s not about me, it’s about what the majority of students want, and the fact that so many bars on Welch Avenue are still in business shows they want them there. Even though I dislike most of these bars, it isn’t up to me or anyone else to take that away from those who enjoy them. The same goes for all the non-bar businesses as well.

Right now, I’m of the mindset that if it’s not going to be done the right way and for the right reasons, it shouldn’t be done at all. Maybe these things will change over time and I will end up being in support of this — who knows.

What I do know is that the means and ends should always hold the students as top priority, and I don’t think their wants are best represented by a property group from Kansas City who have a lot of money to gain. If I am proved otherwise, and the majority of students support this and want all the proposed new businesses, I will gladly admit I was wrong.