At one time, Missouri State University comprised 38 undeveloped acres. Today, its main campus stretches from Grand Street on the south to Phelps Street on the north.
Dozens of academic halls, sporting fields and residence halls support the campus activity of over 23,000 students.
While only 4,000 call the campus dormitories home, many still live nearby. They get their shut-eye in one of the few thousand beds at off-campus student housing complexes.
In recent years, Springfield student housing developments have seemingly become unstoppable. From 2009 to 2015, roughly $140 million was invested in 17 student housing projects around MSU, according to Springfield Business Journal reporting. And the list of projects keeps growing.
In January, construction began on the final phases of Bryan Properties’ $48 million Bear Village. The latest investment of $21 million adds 300 beds to its current 380. In June, City Council members approved $8 million more for 72 units planned by developer Burning Tree after demolition of residences on 10 parcels at 814-902 S. Robberson Ave. And this month, members have reviewed two new plans for another $7 million in developments geared toward students. Both would involve the restoration and demolition of existing buildings – one at the corner of Bear Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue and the other along National Avenue across the street from the university’s Cheek Hall.
With council’s approval, blight-designated eyesores will continue to be beautified. As proposals keep rolling through, though, it begs the question, does Springfield really need more student housing?
The answer, apparently, is yes.
“There’s a market,” said commercial real estate agent Tim Roth. “Like anything, you can overbuild, but is that time now?”
He doesn’t think so – even years after working with Denver-based Beacon Student Housing to construct Beacon-branded complexes near MSU with roughly 160 units combined.
“Individually, if developers think it works, it works,” Roth said.
University and city officials say the number of housing developments directly correlates with the number of MSU students. During the large student-housing boom 2009-15, MSU enrollment increased 7 percent, according to university data.
“We have certainly experienced enrollment growth, so there is a need for (student housing),” said Dee Siscoe, MSU’s vice president of student affairs.
In the last two years, the number of first-year college students has grown by almost 400, and Siscoe anticipates a modest increase this fall.
For many students, remaining close to campus after they’ve waved goodbye to their residence hall is important. The number of first-year students – 3,194 in fall 2016, according to SBJ archives – leaves little room for older students to remain close to their classrooms. Siscoe said the wide range of student housing surrounding the school continues to provide them with that option.
From the city’s standpoint, planting housing adjacent to a college campus works well developmentally and logistically.
“You don’t have cars coming from all parts of town trying to come in,” said Springfield Economic Development Director Sarah Kerner. “You’re really building that feeling of a campus.”
While developers are eyeing investment properties, university officials are working on their own plan for more on-campus housing. Since early this year, MSU officials have gone through a design and development phase for a new dorm with 400 beds. If approved, it could also feature parking on four levels at the building’s foundation, as well as room for a cafe or retail space.
“Our hope is to have a plan to present to the board in the early fall,” Siscoe said of the proposal that would involve private developer Bryan Magers of Bryan Properties.
Private developers flocking around the school are nothing new – it actually harkens back to MSU’s 1906 founding as Missouri State Normal School. They anticipated growth, then, and would erect roughly 100 dwellings within a few hundred yards of the new campus.
They had the same idea as today’s developers, but the housing bells and whistles are much different: fire pits near pristine pools, modern study lounges, theater and game rooms, and scenic city views.
Today, there are nearly 1,100 units representing 2,629 beds surrounding MSU, Kerner said, citing an October 2016 student housing study by the city. The two plans scheduled for a vote during the July 24 council meeting would add 94 units to the sum.
The Boomertown Lofts Corp. proposes 70 residential apartments in two four-story buildings fronting National Avenue between Madison and Page streets, as well as 4,800 square feet of retail space. Additionally, the developer, represented at the council meeting by architect Brian Kubik of Buxton Kubik Dodd Creative, would construct two single-family dwellings along South McCann Avenue, east of National Avenue. Kubik could not be reached by press time for more information.
The 414 Bear Boulevard Plan, by developer Magers Management Co. I LP, would rehabilitate a 24-unit multifamily structure built in 1984 across from the roughly 50-unit Beacon Park complex. Magers Management also is involved with the $3.5 million Magers Crossing mixed-use development in southwest Springfield.
Siscoe says as MSU continues to grow, student housing developments will be welcome. “If it benefits the student, then it directly benefits the university,” she said.
FRESH START: Magers Management Co. is rehabilitating a 24-unit structure near Missouri State University.
SBJ photo by WES HAMILTON
Developers flocked to campus at turn of century, too
This isn’t the first time developers have been drawn to the opportunities of students searching for near-campus living.
“Daring to Excel: The First 100 Years of Southwest Missouri State University,” written by Donald Landon, was published in 2004. It details the school’s modest beginnings.
MSU, first known as the Missouri State Normal School, began with zero state funding and no buildings to facilitate classes.
“For the first two and a half years,” the text reads, “John Taylor and his Springfield Normal School and Business College provided solutions.”
In addition to classrooms, Taylor also allowed Missouri State Normal School students to take up residence in his own college’s two dormitories – for the cost of $2.75 a week. The alternative was to live with families near the school for $3 a week.
“There was housing for at least 300 students in the immediate vicinity of the old Normal School,” Landon writes.
In 1909, a few years after the Missouri State Normal School’s establishment, the first building, Academic Hall, now known as Carrington Hall, was completed and enrollment began to near the 500 mark.
The temporary arrangement at the old Normal School had ended, and the issue of student housing was becoming more apparent. What came to be known as “Boarding Clubs,” cooperative arrangements with local householders, offered a solution, as did Springfield developers, who anticipated student growth and moved closer to the area. Within the first few years of the school’s beginning, they would erect roughly 100 dwellings within a few hundred yards of the new campus.
Three nearby subdivisions also were developed: Pickwick, Irvington and Driving Park.
The first dormitories were built by the Irvington Hall Dormitory Co., a group organized among the faculty. It only cost $15,000 then to construct two frame buildings, which were rented out to the school for $150 a month.
The Missouri State Normal School would not construct its first dorm until 1950.