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So long, Banana House ... a target of the next housing rush near Purdue
A simpler time – less than a decade ago, really – gave us debate over the Banana House. Why it’s about to be history, as developers come again with big student housing projects near Purdue
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The joke is about over for the Banana House.
Maybe you had to be there. But there was a month or two, early in the social media days, when the giant banana painted on the side of a student rental at the corner of Wood Street and Chauncey Avenue commanded the front page and made West Lafayette pick sides.
Was the mural, painted in late summer of 2013 at 138 S. Chauncey Ave., free speech in the form of legit art that just happened to mimic the look of a local housing management company’s marketing? Or was it straight up advertising and a not-so-subtle middle finger raised to West Lafayette efforts at the time to scale back landlords’ use of signs littering the side of buildings in near-campus neighborhoods?
City officials eventually stood down. The Banana House stayed up, adding its own Facebook page and adorning the shape with strings of lights at Christmastime. (“It really was just a house that needed to be painted,” a Granite Management manager said at the time.)
In the coming weeks, plans for a new, seven-story complex that will cover the block of Wood Street that the Banana House anchors will go to the Area Plan Commission and the West Lafayette City Council.
If approved, the two-story Banana House, along with four neighboring apartment buildings, will be gone.
“In our opinion, it’s addition by subtraction,” Ryan Munden, a Lafayette attorney representing developers of the proposed Verve West Lafayette, said Tuesday.
It was a good, nine-year run for Banana House. (And Granite’s companion piece, a fiberglass banana sculpture initially installed near the intersection of State and Pierce streets, lives on, converted into a rolling, hydraulic-aided fixture on one of the company’s pickup trucks.)
All of which gets us to the real reason we’re here today …
As Purdue anticipates another big freshman class (for more on the number: see below) and city planners look to lift an unwritten moratorium on bigger projects aimed at undergrad rentals, a handful of developments are starting to emerge along the edges of campus.
A sneak peek of three around downtown West Lafayette, east of campus, was delivered Tuesday to the Joint Board, a committee from the city and university that reviews major projects close to campus. Here’s what’s proposed:
Verve West Lafayette: The proposed project from Subtext Acquisitions, a St. Louis firm with projects in college communities in a dozen states, would include seven floors and 247 units with up to 763 beds, along with 5,000-square-feet of ground-floor retail space and a 231-space parking garage. It would cover the half-block of Wood Street, between Chauncey Avenue and Salisbury street, on the backside of The Rise and The Hub, high-rises along State Street. The project would replace units that have 152 beds in five buildings – including those in the Banana House. The estimated cost: $82.6 million. Munden said construction, once started, would take 22 months. What’s next: The developer’s rezoning request is up for Area Plan Commission consideration at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St. The West Lafayette City Council would consider the plans at its May 2 meeting.
Monterey Apartments: Evergreen Rentals has proposed a five-story complex on 0.45 acres, just south of the southeast corner of Pierce and Wood streets. It would have 68 units with 103 bedrooms, replacing what were four single-family houses that have room for 32 beds. The project would include a 36-space parking garage. Estimated cost: $10 million. Construction is expected to start in January 2023 and be done in July 2024, Barry Knechtel, with KJG Architecture, told members of the Joint Board. What’s next: The developer’s rezoning request is up for Area Plan Commission consideration at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Tippecanoe County Office Building, 20 N. Third St. The West Lafayette City Council would consider the plans at its May 2 meeting.
4Up: Tomash Developers has proposed a six-story building with up to 191 apartments and 334 bed on the upper floors and retail on the ground floor, near the corner of Vine and Fowler streets. The project would include parking for 107 vehicles. Kevin Riley, an attorney for the developer, said the project would include donating the property at 321 Vine St. to the city. Erin Easter, West Lafayette’s development director, said the idea would be to convert that site into downtown greenspace. Cost for the project: $35 million. Riley said construction would start in December 2022 and take 18 months to finish. What’s next: The developer’s rezoning request won’t go to Area Plan Commission until May 18 and to the West Lafayette City Council until June.
Also coming, of note, west of campus: On Wednesday, the Area Plan Commission also will consider zoning for Source at Discovery Park District, a project that would include up to 57 condominiums in part of what now is Squirrel Park, near State Street and Airport Road. The condos, geared for Purdue alumni and others connected to the university, are another piece of the Discovery Park District, a west-campus, live-work-play development led by Purdue Research Foundation.
All of that new, near-campus housing consideration follows city council approval for rezoning for 3rd and West, a five-story, 402-unit complex just north of Purdue West Shopping Center, at Third Street and McCormick Road. PRF is working with American Campus Communities on the project and expects to start work this summer. The opening date, he said, is expected to be by August 2024, according to Jeremy Slater, vice president of capital projects and facilities for Purdue Research Foundation.
Also of note, this conversation about cramped spaces on and near campus: During the Joint Board meeting, developers were asked about study room-style amenities in their projects. That’s something that hadn’t come up in a student housing boom that led to some 2,500 new beds within blocks of campus during a record-breaking development year in 2019. Michael Gulich, senior director of campus planning, architecture and sustainability at Purdue, said that with the increased number of student bedrooms being built in the Village area – spurred by Purdue enrollment that grew by 19% in the past five years and 1% vacancy rates – study space at Rawls Hall, Krannert and other nearby campus buildings have been at a premium. In each project presented Tuesday, dedicated study spaces had been negotiated and drawn into plans.
On-campus housing outlook: Last week, Purdue trustees told campus planners to pursue a plan to replace Meredith Hall with three new residential halls, which would pick up more than 1,200 beds.
And after an APC annual student rental report, released in December 2021, suggested lifting a moratorium on new student housing in West Lafayette, city officials said at least a half-dozen projects were in the works, in one form or another.
One of those: What’s going to happen to the Chauncey Hill Mall property at State Street and Chauncey Avenue. Things have been quiet for months, after the latest drawings showed high rises with more than 1,400 beds. No formal proposal has come since then for a property that has been slated for redevelopment for the past five years.
Yet, it’s the Banana House that will go before Chauncey Hill Mall.
MITCH DANIELS ON THE UPDATED ENROLLMENT PROJECTIONS
All that housing talk filters out from what’s been happening in the enrollment office at Purdue in recent years. Namely, as mentioned above, the university has been riding a huge wave of new students, as Purdue leaned into the marketing of its decade-long tuition freeze and the aggressive stance the past two years on doing everything reasonable to reopen campus during the COVID-19 pandemic. The past five years have been Nos. 1 through 5 in all-time freshman classes.
This week, President Mitch Daniels told faculty on the University Senate that enrollment folks were trying to avoid the surprise of the 2021-22 academic year, when a projection of 8,450 new students turned into more than 10,000. That crop boosted overall enrollment to 49,636 students – or more than 8% greater than any other time in Purdue’s history.
“Our enrollment office has tried to guard against that, and clearly we won’t have the situation we had this year,” Daniels said Monday. “But I have to tell you that, once again, despite offering fewer acceptances overall, demand is running very, very strong.”
Daniels said Purdue is aiming for a number between 8,500 and 9,000.
“I think we’re going to be in that zone,” Daniels said. “But if there’s a bias at the moment, it appears to be on the up-side.”
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