Conversation with Warren Madden about LANE4, Campustown

Jason Arment

Q: What is the university’s position on LANE4 and Campustown renovation?

Madden: The city of Ames and the university over the last several months have been cooperating and working together to try and do a redevelopment of Campustown that started out … last spring. We interviewed a number of potential developer/design firms and after evaluating a number of them, picked LANE4, which is the firm that we’ve been working with over the last several months.

They’re a firm located in Kansas City and they have been involved in a number of university Campustown-type redevelopment projects at some other locations. They’ve done projects in Lawrence, which is adjacent to the University of Kansas, in Manhattan, which is where Kansas State is, the University of Missouri relayed project in St. Louis where they have a campus, they have a project in Kansas City that’s underway around the University of Kansas’s medical campus, as well as some other areas, so we felt that they have some background and expertise.

And so we have been working cooperatively with the city to try and develop … with them and then ultimately, hopefully a project that would start to do some improvements and redevelopment of Campustown.

Q: What is the background of this project?

The background of this from the university[‘s] perspective and I believe the city of Ames and the City Council has been that Campustown could be improved over the last few years its general condition and some of the areas aren’t what everybody feels provides the best environment.

This is an area that’s important to the university in terms of recruiting students, and it’s one of the front doors to Iowa State as prospective students and parents and other family members move around, so that’s been part of our interest in seeing is something could be done to improve that.

So we have been meeting with LANE4 [since last spring] and some meetings were held over the summer. There have been several public meetings and LANE4 has met in the community with specific groups and individually has come out on the campus, they’ve met with administrators they’ve met … once or twice with GSB as this process has moved along and we’re still in the middle of conversations.

They have developed some general plans which I think have been presented at these areas. The Campustown area has some boundary definitions … it kind of runs from the west edge of campus down to approximately where the Memorial Union is.

Q: What are the phases of the project?

The first phase of their project is really the two blocks on each side of where Welch and Lincoln Way is located, and they have outlined a vision of what they would like to try and accomplish in those areas. The block on the east side of Welch, they have apparently worked far enough along to have developed some options with the landowner in that area, which is predominantly one family, the Champlin family, and have indicated an interest in starting a development in that area. They would potentially put on that corner a grocery/drug/convenience store on the lower level of what’s being discussed as a four-story structure. The upper floors would be office-type space, and we’re in conversations with them about whether the university could identify some activities and would be potential occupants of the office space.

On the corner of the west side of Welch [where CopyWorks is currently located] they have indicated that they think they could develop a hotel facility, probably a restaurant and some additional retail space and are working on those two projects.

Q: How is it being financed?

Their conversations with the university and the city about how to put this together, part of the financing of all of this would involve using certain tax increment financing programs that the city has the ability to approve, and then there are some federal tax programs, the one that’s probably most likely to be [utilized] is a program called New Markets Tax Credits, which is a federal program that basically lets the developers access federal funds for development purposes. So we’re in a discussion process with both the city and LANE4 about whether all this can come together. They’re interested in having this move along reasonably promptly.

Q: What are some issues that could surface during a renovation of the area?

There are economic issues that we’ve got to work out. The university, if it’s going to occupy office space, needs to arrive at an arrangement where the rental rates are appropriate, we need to identify activities that that’s a good location for them. The design of buildings and how this all moves along need to be worked out. They have to finish putting together all of the real estate that you need to do that, and a component of that is what happens to some of the existing businesses and activities that are in the Campustown area. So all of this is sort of going on. There are parking issues — how do we work that out and what are their plans — what will the city eventually be willing to approve. But I think that there is a community interest by at least the university and the city to see if we can’t have this project move forward and be successful.

Q: What about certain individuals who may not want to sell their property? To your knowledge is eminent domain on the table to be used?

Well, that would be a decision the city of Ames would need to make. I think that is on the table in the sense that I believe they’ve started to have some discussions about it in terms of a decision about whether it can be used or needs to be used, I’m not aware that that’s been made or occurred. I think in general and in the conversations that I have been a part of, LANE4 certainly is starting out from a perspective that they would like to … arrive at an acceptable agreement with property owners where that isn’t one of the issues that would need to be used. And that means they need to negotiate with the people that own the property about what terms or conditions that they’re willing to sell. My understanding is that they’re having conversations with people that own property in that area, particularly the block that’s on the west side of Welch, because it’s my understanding they already have arrived at generally an agreement with the people that own the land on the east side, which is predominantly the Champlin family. So I think that is an issue and that’s one of the factors that will have to be worked out if this moves forward, if this is necessary.

Q: Are the proposed renovations looking to diversify Campustown?

If you talk with LANE4 … the business vitality and viability of the Campustown area is dependent on providing the kind of services and businesses that students in general are interested [in] and will patronize because the marketplace in this area is dominated by the 28,000 students that are a part of Iowa State and the university community. So to be successful the things that need to be and should be and will be in the LANE4 process are those kinds of businesses that those students are interested in patronizing.

Q: Regarding cost of space, will there be some displaced businesses, organizations or activities?

Certainly as you improve the quality of the space, the cost of that space may be different than some of the structures that are there, and I think one of the challenges of Campustown projects in any campus area, not only Iowa State, but others, is that there’s an academic year nature of our business.

There are more students in our case in Ames during the nine month academic year, from roughly the middle of August through May, and that makes it more challenging for some businesses as they … need to have revenue coming in all year round and I think part of the conversation with LANE4 involves can you make Campustown an area that draws not only the existing university student community to be prospective customers, but others in the community, and I think that one of their ideas of a hotel is that it can draw additional kinds of people into the area.

The grocery store, restaurant, drug store kind of facility .. I think their hope is that can be a project that would be of interest not only to the student community, but to others in Ames and in the area.

So will there be some displaced businesses, or organizations or activities? I think the answer to that probably is yes, because … in order to make this development happen in a way that’s workable they’re trying to address parking and some of the other needs, so some of the structures that are there probably will not be there going forward. On the other hand in the case of the building they’ve been talking with the university about trying to occupy, it would be a four-story structure so you’d have more vertical infrastructure with square feet on upper floors. Part of that as an office environment is I think that they hope that if it’s occupied during the daytime for example with people in the office, those are people that become customers [of] coffee shops and restaurants.

Q: Are there any operational challenges?

I think that one of the current Campustown operational challenges is that during the daytime Campustown in many parts of it is a relatively empty or quiet space, and then there is a level of activity that may pick up in the evening which is around some of the bars and restaurants and other things, and I think what they’re trying to do is to develop a mix of activities that … try and increase the overall business volume in the area. They have certainly indicated in conversations that their hope is that existing businesses would still be part of the Campustown area, that students want to patronize those and some of them will elect to stay.

If you ask me which ones I don’t know the answer to that and I don’t know where LANE4 is in their conversations with specific businesses, but the success of the businesses is dependent on the customers and the biggest customer base is students.

So that conversation is going on and you talked about some of the ethnic restaurants and things, I would hope that those kinds of establishments would continue to be able to operate successfully in the Campustown area. Any business’s ability to be in Campustown is dependent upon having enough customers if you will and support the business, so if we can increase the population that sees Campustown as an area to visit and recreate and do business in I think that can benefit them, but will all of them be successful and decide they want to stay in that area? I don’t know for sure, but I think that if you look at other projects in other campus communities, there is some change in the businesses surrounding the campus, and some individual businesses may not be completely happy with those changes.

On the other hand if you bring in new businesses that are a different kind of activity, some of those businesses are successful and the customers are finding access to the goods and services that they want. But customers vote with their feet and their wallets or pocketbooks, they can go shop in different locations and can get to different places to a certain degree, … it’s not captive, captive, but the students that reside in these areas are probably more likely to be customers than people that live further away or have the ability to move around more, although CyRide has made moving around the Ames community relatively efficient for students and certainly the growth in the west Ames area out where the basketball practice facility is and the apartments and those businesses out there, that whole area it really is partly developed because of the CyRide system now making bus service available out there, and students under the fare-free structure can come and go from areas like that. My guess is that you wouldn’t have seen that development out there without CyRide.

So it’s a complicated mix and certainly as it moves along there will be challenges at working with existing business. And my understanding in LANE4’s model and plan, part of this is assisting those businesses that want to relocate, helping them accomplish that.

Q: Could this project reduce the number of people who frequent Campustown?

[I don’t believe that the capacity of Campustown will lower any with this project], now will there be some different change in the mix and do we think that would be good? I think the university administratively probably does. I’ll use myself as an example, as an older person, … the kind of places that are in Campustown today aren’t necessarily the kind of restaurant, retail or bar locations that I would personally pick as my favorite place to go, because I’m typically interested in a place that is generally a little more quiet and I can sit on talk and do all that, versus some of the kinds of things that some of the students want to have; louder music and a different kind of setting.

I think we’re hoping that if this project is successful that we will get a broader mix of facilities in Campustown and that if you increase the age range and kinds of facilities that it will provide a better environment that may actually diminish some of the kinds of issues that historically we’ve had in the Campustown area, around the Veishea events and things if you go back to when those have happened.

Will there be less of any particular thing, I think that remains to be seen. On the other hand you may end up with some coffee shops or other things that aren’t there today that will be attractive to other groups of students. There is a whole group of university-related students that aren’t yet legally of age, and one of the conversations that I’ve been around with a number of people is trying to provide more venues where those students can also go and be with people. So let’s say they get a retail food establishment in there that may have a bar in it, but meets the current city code requirements for the age of people that can be in it, we think that might be a good thing. Now are those going to be local venues or are those going to be national-branded places that currently aren’t in Ames or are someplace else? You’d have to talk with LANE4 about who some of their potential tenants are, but if you could get Hickory Park or the Cafe, using those as examples, those are, I think, good kinds of places, and having some of those kinds of places in Campustown would be great and at least in their kind of structures, the age and who can be in them and all doesn’t keep anybody out.

Q: Will there still be bars in Campustown?

Will there still be bars in Campustown? I think the answer to that is yes, as I’ve talked to LANE4, they don’t envision all of the bars in Campustown going away, and I think this first phase of their project doesn’t really affect a number of those. The Pizza Pit would still be there and the Fighting Burrito, but as you go further up Welch towards Chamberlain, I don’t think this project immediately has an impact on those, and I assume that those will stay there.

On these two corners [at Welch and Lincoln Way], it certainly will have some impact on the businesses that are in those, the east side of Welch right now has gone though two or three different types of restaurant, bar, food type places over the last two or three years. I think the last sort of long term activity or tenant that was there, People’s, was a relatively long-term facility on that corner that I think was a successful business venture and the owner/operator of that decided that he didn’t want to continue it, and I think that since then, it’s gone through two or three different kinds of things, so I think that some of this area is not being successfully utilized today, and I think LANE4 is hoping [to] make a change in that environment, but I don’t think that that will change the numbers of people that currently visit the area necessarily.

Q: If the free market has [metaphorically] decided these businesses no longer get to be there, people no longer traffic them enough that they’re going to open their doors and stay in business, that putting more businesses in there that didn’t make it before, is there a plan that suggests that now would be a better time for those types of businesses, is the [time right to] move in with these kinds of businesses, where in the past it wasn’t and what has changed from the past to now?

Well, I have been in the Iowa State area for a long time, so I’ve seen the Campustown area change, I was an undergraduate student here, and I used to live further south on Welch, so for the four years that I was in school I walked up and down that street multiple times a day as I came and went from where I lived to the campus and … back then there was hardware stores and clothing stores and actually Hy-Vee grocery stores and a level of services, like opticians and doctors and a whole mix of things. Some of those changes, I think, are the demographics and what’s happening, you know clothing stores for example, men and women’s clothing stores selling suits and dresses and that kind of thing, nationally those are changing because the kind of clothes that are being worn change, and the demographic changes, and so some of the changes are the result of societal changes that are going on.

Some of them, I think, are traffic patterns; when the university had the four Towers dormitories down at the end of Welch and we had 2,400 students living down there that walked through the Campustown area every day, that provided a different kind of customer base. There was a McDonald’s down on Welch at one time, and it was patronized by some extent to the students going by, one of those sort of tidbit factoids that you pick up was that its highest volume of sales was of French fries late in the afternoon because the students were walking back from campus down to the Towers and they would stop at McDonald’s and buy a small thing of French fries. McDonald’s has continued to be a successful fast food chain, on the other hand is that my understanding is that college students, our tastes change, and people that have grown up in communities where you ate McDonald’s-type foods for your high school years and all of that, you come to college and McDonald’s may or may not be the kind of brand that you still have an interest in patronizing. So some of it is, I think, those customer changes.

Part of what LANE4 is trying to do is to develop accessibility of parking in their plan, and they think that will help draw people in and out of the area. Right now Campustown is a pedestrian area to a significant extent because the parking locations don’t exist, or they’re not where they work very well, so that’s what we’re trying to do with this intermodal parking facility, which will get constructed on the west edge of this Campustown area. We’ll add some additional parking capacity to that area, and that project is going forward because it received a federal grant to build the intermodal parking facility, so I think that all of that is at a time when the economy is getting better it appears, and so I think that as long as we’re talking with the city and LANE4 we think this may be an opportunity to have all of this come to move forward and be successful, but at the end of the day it still does have to be an economically-viable business area, and the firms and businesses that locate there need to be able to be successful.

For that to happen they have to have customers, and you get customers by providing the kinds of goods and services that people want at a fair and reasonable price and meet their expectations, and with some redevelopment we hope that will happen.

Q: What about buildings that are scheduled to be removed or taken down? What is LANE4’s evaluation process?

Some of the buildings that are scheduled to be removed or taken down are physically to a point where they’re probably marginal concerns whether some of them are meeting code requirements and all of that, so even if this Campustown project didn’t happen, you could have some of these facilities having a set of challenges about being able to continue to operate and meet the existing code requirements, and LANE4 is the one that has been talking with the current businesses and is assessing those. And I think their evaluation process involves what buildings potentially should or can be saved or reused and which ones does it make more sense to basically take them down and start over? And I think they’re also trying to accommodate parking, [with the convenience, grocery, drug store] I think their view is that if you’re going to bring that kind of facility into Campustown they will want some type of parking capacity associated with their building because people that run in to buy [things] need to be able to park near the entry way as they go in and do their business and then get out, and so they see parking as sort of critical to the success of those kinds of businesses.

Procedurally, I think what’s going on is LANE4 is working on plans, they want to get commitments from people to occupy the buildings that they’re proposing, they need to go through the city approval processes and the city zoning and planning requirements. They’re hoping that they can get some of the federal tax credits that I mentioned [before], some tax increment financing through the city and make it a successful project.

You certainly are starting out one of the challenges in any area that’s being redeveloped is that your initial land costs generally are higher because you’re taking real estate that has structures on it and redeveloping that, which probably costs more than [it would to develop on an open plot].

On the other hand one of society’s challenges today is the redevelopment of areas and perhaps increasing the density somewhat, rather than continuing to sprawl out, and so I think all of that is part of the discussion that’s going to go on as this project continues to move forward and as you go through many pool processes to be successful.

Q: If the use of eminent domain is used, do you think that might impact small businesses from coming to the area sometime in the future?

Eminent domain is a tool, and if that tool is utilized first the ultimate result is that people get paid the fair price for their property, so their property is not being taken away at an unfair price. Now there are cases where it’s not only the economic value, which presumably the eminent domain process ends up paying, and if you’re not satisfied with the starting point in that you have the right to go to court, and the court will ultimately decide what are the appropriate values.

There are certainly pieces of property where individuals have what I call emotional commitments and sometimes those are difficult to overcome, but the reason eminent domain exists is that from an overall community/societal perspective, decisions have been made for the greater good of the community. There are times when it’s appropriate to be able to change or acquire real estate to be used in other ways, and I think that if you start out with the assumption that the greater community’s good, that some change is necessary, and if you can’t get there voluntarily, eminent domain is a vehicle to accomplish that.

As I started out saying, the City Council would have to approve that; it has not been used in Ames very frequently, and I would expect that the City Council will be very cautious if they decide to approve using eminent domain. I would guess that they will want to be very careful, and it will probably be under some fairly limited conditions that they would permit it to happen. If you look at cases in this part of the country where it’s been used, probably one of the most dominant times is by the highway people when somebody is trying to develop a road that’s believed to be an important transportation link and they need to acquire the right of way and they can’t get the people that own the land to sell, and so eminent domain becomes a vehicle for accomplishing that, but the basis is that there’s been a road or street or whatever that needs to occur.

Q: What does the Ames community think about Campustown renovation?

I think that the community at some point in the Campustown redevelopment has to decide is the redevelopment of Campustown overall a project that helps Ames, and adds value to the university and the community? And if the answer is yes, then I think that we will continue to move forward if we can get all of the economic conditions to work satisfactorily from everybody’s point of view.

If the community feels these changes aren’t good then I would guess that the [City Council] will not go forward. The governance process of the university itself is a little bit different, but ultimately these real estate projects, whatever they turn out to be, will … need the approval of the Board of Regents. And the Board of Regents is the equivalent of a governing body for the university, just as the city council is for the city. Those nine individuals that are our regents will have to decide [whether] they believe that whatever is going on in this package of things are appropriate for the benefit of Iowa State University and the people of Iowa, which they represent. And the people that disagree with this will presumably have the opportunity to voice their concerns or whatnot as these processes move along. So this is far from being a done deal, it’s all packaged up and put together and there’s still a number of challenges out there to make this work.

But as I started out saying I think the university administratively, the City Council has given Campustown a priority and are hoping that we can put something together. As I’ve been involved with meeting with some of the student government leaders and I think as LANE4 did some of their presentations, in general there was support for the redevelopment of Campustown. [I believe that some reservations remain about the project] and hopefully as this process moves forward we’ll be able to address some of those.

But will we be able to answer and solve everybody’s individual problem? That’s sometimes pretty challenging to do. You can start out with a goal of getting there, but I suspect if this continues to move along, there will be individuals who will not feel the direction of the outcome is necessarily meeting their own personal needs, but I think the processes that might be used will let them be economically compensated fairly.

So I think we’re hopeful that this project can move forward, and I think that at least in the discussions that there’s hope this will happen yet this spring in terms of some of the planning processes.