Q&A with Trip Ross of LANE4

Kayla Schantz

Trip Ross, senior associate for LANE4

Q: What is your role in the Campustown redevelopment project?

My role is during the development process, so before we start construction, I’m handling all the assemblage of the land and the properties. So I’m working with property owners in Campustown to acquire their buildings and land to be used in the redevelopment. And then I’m also handling what we would call “brokerage.” I’m basically finding the tenants that will help support the project, so that’s either tenants that are already in Campustown or in Ames that would be relocating or opening new stores in the redevelopment, or tenants that would be new to Ames that would be opening within the project.

Q: What have you done so far?

Well, all that has started. So the focus to this day has been on acquiring the property to support the redevelopment, but we’re also talking to people, again — merchants and tenants that are in Ames that are local folks, or people that don’t already have a presence in Ames about being a part of this redevelopment.

Q: What has been the reaction of the business owners that you’ve talked to so far?

That’s a tough question, because we’ve talked to business owners in all different kinds of contacts. The first round of conversations were part of a series of focus groups we did for this project. And this is a type of project that we’ve done before, but we’re by no means a local expert; we wouldn’t claim to understand the need in Ames or in Campustown.

So we hosted a series of focus groups, some of which were invite-only so we could get specific groups of people. I guess to address your question, one of those groups was merchants that were just in Campustown, another group was local business owners, and then we had students, and government officials, and safety people — like fire, police, that kind of stuff. And then we had a few public sections, and basically we used those sessions and those conversations with local folks [merchants, citizens, students, etc.] to kind of gauge what the need is, what this project should look like, feel like, what would attract attention from a local customer.

But what this ultimately comes down to is, we need to deliver a project that people want to go to, that they want to support. So we’re trying to figure out the best way to achieve that.

Q: What type of businesses are you looking for that would attract customers to the area?

That’s a good question. Again, we’re not really local experts, so we asked a lot of questions, in our focus groups and in the conversations we’ve had since. In the focus groups we asked about what the positives in Campustown are now, what the negatives are, what some of the opportunities are. And really the motivation behind asking what the opportunities are to get ideas, because right now as Campustown sits, it’s a real mix, there’s all different kinds of tenants in that area.

The one common theme that we have heard loud and clear from the university, from the city, students and especially from merchants — both people that are already operating in Campustown and people that would open a location there — is that you need a project that is of interest to the whole Ames community, not something that’s just focused on students, not something that’s just focused on the university. And a big part of that is because the students are only around for eight months of the year, but with holiday break and with summer break; you got to have something that caters to everyone.

So our focus for users is really a broad scope. And the feedback we received during these focus groups was that there’s a real interest in dealing with each type of retailers and users. One that came up pretty consistently was a grocery store, a drug store. I believe at one point there were two grocery stores in Campustown and then just in its recent history there was one and now there’s obviously none; so that was one that came up. And other uses like that, something that would drive traffic to the area on a daily basis.

And then another group [wanted] local “specialty shops,” I’ll call it. And that can be anything from a local boutique to a gallery to something that’s just an independent business, something that’s specific to that area. Again, it’s a good question, but there’s not a short answer, so if I had to give you two groups, those would be the two.

Q: Will a lot of the businesses there now have to relocate? Will the new Campustown have a lot of the same businesses that are there now, or will it be mostly new businesses?

Well, I would hope so. You know, obviously Campustown has a character because of who is there. Obviously our obligation has been to redevelop this area, so part of that is acquiring properties that have tenants in it or are occupied by tenants. So a tenant may not operate their business at the exact same location that they’re occupying now, but our hope would be to work with tenants to find an opportunity for them within the project. And I’ll tell you, those are conversations that we haven’t had yet, because we’re not at that phase of the project yet. That will start happening here pretty soon, but right now my main focus has been to acquire the property to make this project happen.

Q: Have you encountered any opposition so far?

It depends on what you define as “opposition.” Obviously there are folks that maybe don’t understand our project or our goals, there are folks that have owned their property for a very long time and just don’t see any need to part with it, and that’s their decision, that’s a sentiment that we can totally understand. We can’t force anyone to sell their property to us. So in that sense, I guess if you want to call that “opposition,” we’ve had people say that they’d just like to hold onto their property.

But I would say the feedback we’ve received face-to-face and focus groups and just in talking to folks, we’re obviously in constant contact with people locally — this is a project that people have wanted to see happen for a very long time. We hope we can deliver it. We hope that the time is right for the city and the university to support something like this. One thing we heard loud and clear from a lot of folks right at the beginning of our efforts was that the city and the university have tried to change Campustown over and over and over again; it’s a very hard undertaking. This isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s hard to take so many opinions into consideration and make a project that will please everyone, that again, will meet the city and the university and the community’s goal of being an asset to the total community, not just to the university or to the students or any one specific group.

Q: You said you are not to the stage in which you’re talking to businesses yet. When will that begin?

It’s different from property to property. We’re working with the people that actually own the businesses at this point, and when we reach an agreement with them, then we can go to their tenants. So it’s really just a matter of polite communication, we wouldn’t want to interfere with the property owner’s lease with one of their tenants, once we’ve reached an agreement with the property owner, then we would go and have a conversation with their tenants.

Q: What is LANE4’s vision of the new Campustown? What do you have in mind of what Campustown will be like when the project is completed?

That’s a good question. It’s something that will continue to evolve. I would say — I guess just as I’ve kind of already said — the motivation is to deliver a project that is appealing to the greater Ames community; that someone that lives outside of that general area will drive in to visit the merchants and the businesses that are supporting that area. And even from towns outside of Ames, someone that would come in maybe for a game and support some of those merchants and businesses. The idea that we would just come back and deliver something that only caters to a specific group — the university or students or what have you — we know is just not something that’s totally sustainable. So our hope would be … to deliver a project, again, that’s attractive to everyone.

And I’ll tell you, like I said, it’s just an extremely complicated process. There’s a lot of risk and it’s a major undertaking to try to deliver a project like this. And the project is broad because the last thing we want to do is over-promise and under-deliver. We’ve been offered an incredible opportunity to work with the city and the university to create something really special, and we wouldn’t want to [promise] the community something that we don’t think we can pull off. So I can understand if I were a student or if I were a resident of Ames, I would want to know exactly what’s going to be there because this is an area that people are very passionate about. But again, that’s absolutely something we’ve heard loud and clear, we’re doing our best to take that into consideration. We’re hopeful that we can be able to deliver that.

Q: I know the community has said they want to be more a part of Campustown, but there has been some concern from students as to what will happen to their favorite bars that are currently in the area. Will there still be plenty of student entertainment in the new Campustown?

Of course. This is the reason that the area is of value is because it’s right across the street from a lot of students. Our hope, though, is to incorporate more uses into this area than are already represented there. So I think that there are always going to be bars in Campustown. We’ve said before at meetings, there’s going to be a place to go get something cheap to eat and have a beer. That’s why that area is unique, and I think that’s why it’s attractive to people that live in Ames: they like the youth and energy of being around that university, so to come in and do something, to create something that could easily exist on South Duff [Avenue], wouldn’t be responsible on our part. That’s not why we were drawn to this project. There will be change, but I think it’s still something that will be attractive to the student body.

Q: What will the construction period be like? Will there still be places for the students to go during the two year process in which the area is under construction?

Well, our project doesn’t encompass every bar and restaurant in Campustown. The scope of our last plan is still our focus, which is really the areas in front of Lincoln Way and then kind of go halfway up Welch [Avenue], so there are other bars and restaurants in that area. Yes, there is going to be a fair amount of construction in that area for quite awhile. Just know that again, the city and the university are great partners, but they also have very high expectations. And we won’t be taking our time with this. This is a project we’re going to want to deliver as soon as possible, so hopefully that construction period will be short-lived and by the time a student comes back for the next academic year there will be a new project there waiting for them.

Once we actually have a plan to show people that will help spark conversation, there will be a lot more engaging with different groups — students specifically, obviously. Again, the goal here is not to paint a really pretty picture and then deliver something that’s totally different. We want to make the most educated decision possible here and if we’re going to show a project to the city council and to the greater population as a whole, we want it to be something that’s totally achievable.

One criticism that we’ve heard in our focus groups, and it’s been mentioned in a few articles that have been passed on to me, is that … we’re just going to deliver some cookie cutter development with box stores and national retailers and that Campustown is going to lose its character … really, we’ve never even said anything that would allude to that.

To create some urbanism there I think is really attractive, and also I think it makes the project a little more sustainable. There’s so much focus on having a big parking lot in front of a big project and a parking structure or something. I think it’s nice to know that a good amount of the traffic that goes through Campustown — whether it’s for a grocery store, drug store, or Buffalo Wild Wings — will be people walking right across the street from campus, going either to and from class or going to campus from their house, or whatever.

But the really appealing aspect of an area like this, not even just Campustown, but some of the other projects we’ve worked on. The project we’re working on right now at [Kansas] State [and their campustown is called Aggieville] is a very similar area, kind of an entertainment district for students, and our project is right in between campus and that area. So it’s a unique relationship to have a commercial project in between a university and where people live. And it kind of gets us excited.

Q: When is LANE4 going to come back to Ames to present an update to city council?

That is still to be determined. We were supposed to be there at the end of this month, and that’s been delayed. We’re trying to finalize our agreements with the city and the university and a lot of these agreements are kind of contingent upon the other, so it’s a little bit of a chicken and egg scenario. So we have to work with the university to finalize their agreement, and then finalize our agreement with the city … so it will probably be late February I would think.