Update: In June, the Ames city council declined to give Lane4 more time to come up with a workable plan for Campustown redevelopment but said that the city may approach the Kansas City development company in the future.
There are many problems evident concerning LANE4 and the revitalization of Campustown. However, I would like to concentrate on two things: the way in which the city council has chosen to revitalize the area and the vague proposal LANE4 has so far put forth. Starting with the former, it is beyond me why the city decided to contract one out-of-state company to not only formulate a plan for revitalization but also to be the entity administrating every facet of said plan, which would include buying every substantial piece of property in Campustown, demolishing and rebuilding the buildings, then bringing in businesses that can afford the higher rent (and thereafter taking their profits back to Kansas?).
It seems this should have been the last option, if one at all, and that the first option should have been to initiate a long-term policy, maybe 10 to 20 years, where the city would open a dialogue with every property owner in Campustown – especially those who own property that is underutilized, such as the old Taco Bell or USBank ATM parking lot or properties up Hayward Avenue and so on – and persuade them with tax incentives to rebuild (hopefully mixed-use buildings), or fix their facades, or make other considerable improvements. Ideally, you would want to start with the underutilized property, which is rampant in Campustown, and build those lots. Subsequently, the city should use the same tactics for the properties targeted in LANE4’s proposal – those on Lincoln Way, between Stanton Avenue and Hayward, and up Welch Avenue.
Now, some of these buildings might need to go in the next 10 or 15 years, but many still have plenty of life. So really, the city’s policy should be similar to the hunting strategy of a wolf pack: slowly and patiently, take out the old and wounded, i.e. the buildings more run-down. If this kind of a plan were to gain traction and coalesce, then we could achieve a larger Campustown with more variety, a Campustown more appealing to big-box stores and other retail businesses, and a Campustown ready for a continually growing city and university. What is more is that since this would be a long term policy, the city would have a better chance of eventually winning over any stubborn property owners or be able to wait for certain properties to change hands.
Compounding the present problem is the fact that the vague proposal from LANE4 does none of this. As said, it calls for demolishing only and all – not just some – of the buildings on Lincoln Way, from Stanton to Hayward, then rebuilding to suit big-box stores, a hotel, and pharmacy. Thereafter they will do the same to Welch Avenue. This would remove small businesses in favor of big-box stores due to higher rent, cut down on the kind of variety of businesses laid out above, remove many businesses that students frequent, render Campustown in rubble for years due to such large-scale rebuilding, and be gambling with the future of Campustown by placing all bets on the financial viability and prowess of one company, LANE4. What is worst is this is being done for a quick spike in revenues for the city, for the full-time residents who desire a trip into the past, and for the university that believes this will make ISU more appealing to parents. (Ironically, when my parents dropped me off for school in 2002, they loved Campustown, and student enrollment is higher now than ever before.) None of this is being done for the students who are the life blood of this town. One cannot help but notice the abounding resentment for and ingratitude towards the very group keeping this city alive.
Furthermore, some might claim that it would be too difficult to attract retail businesses to Campustown. But if enough of these prime underutilized properties were built up, then I cannot see how big-box store or anyone else would not be interested. After all, is there really much difference between the land where Copyworks is located and where the old Taco Bell is located? The result, again, would be a bustling Campustown, filled with a variety of businesses for all ages, and a linked Campustown with even more foot traffic. Lastly, some might claim that such a long term policy would be hard to accomplish, or too costly for the city. To this I would say: that may be, but if the city and university have any respect for the students and business owners then they would attempt something like this first. After all, it only seems fair to at least try to find a remedy for all, rather than go right to the remedy for a few.
Daniel Brown is the owner of Campustown’s Singer Station
[Editor's note: The Space for Ames, which until recently was a part of the Ames Progressive, is in Campustown and would be affected if Lane4's proposal were approved in its current form.]
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