Eddy Street Commons

Author: John Nagy ’00M.A.

The University of Minnesota has Minneapolis’ Dinkytown. Harvard has all of Cambridge. Even the University of Pennsylvania has a rehabilitated West Philadelphia it can boast about. And Notre Dame has had, well, not a whole heck of a lot.

The South Bend area is full of colleges, and many thousands of people are proud to call it home. But no one has mistaken the city—or any part of it—for a college town. Even as downtown has rallied around a new generation of coffeehouses and eateries, sightings of Notre Dame students outside of a few bars are rare. Neighboring Mishawaka’s Grape Road corridor pulls the bulk of their business.

While Notre Dame’s residential campus is by definition meant for pedestrians, getting to virtually any off-campus destination forces students into cars. Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves says the time has come for Notre Dame to create more of a “college-town atmosphere” on its doorstep.

In June, crews began site work on the long-awaited Eddy Street Commons, a $215 million blend of places to live, work, park, walk, shop, eat and chill that will line up along Eddy like a new Midwestern Main Street in various shades of brick. But will it be a “college town”?

“We’re calling it a mixed-use development,” says James J. Lyphout, Notre Dame’s vice president for business operations, whose division has worked closely with neighborhood partners and Kite Realty Group Trust, an Indianapolis-based developer, to bring the project to daylight. “Not exclusively a college town but more a point where the college and the city come together.”

Traditional college towns are organic agglomerations of walk-up flats and bungalows within a healthy walk of classes; places where undergraduates, local professionals and artsier older scholars find sandwich shops and bars along with second-hand books and music, quirky clothes and décor, and groceries that fit in half-sized refrigerators. New businesses have to elbow their way in among old favorites.

By contrast, Eddy Street’s evolution will be measured in months rather than years, but some of the same principles will hold. As ink dried on the final paperwork in May, a Follett bookstore signed on to anchor the retail, with restaurants, apparel and basic services like hair care and dry cleaning expected to follow. Car-, bike- and foot-friendly, the new neighborhood will offer housing for a range of incomes: apartments, condominiums, row houses and courtyard townhomes.

“The design is geared towards young professionals or empty nesters like myself,” Affleck-Graves says of the residential component. “We think there are a lot of people who will be attracted to that: young faculty and maybe older faculty and professionals who work downtown.”

The project, which will be financed by outside capital and public funding mechanisms, complements the Notre Dame Avenue Housing Program for faculty and staff that began more than five years ago.

Not since Notre Dame’s founder platted what was once called “Sorinsville,” the shady residential streets that intersect Notre Dame Avenue several blocks south of the Main Gate, has the University so directly involved itself in the off-campus development business. That was in the 1870s, when Father Sorin needed to house laborers with modest incomes. Eddy Street Commons will link into that grid when road crews extend Napoleon Street, the northernmost of the cross streets, to the east to accommodate Commoners’ cars.

Affleck-Graves credits the efforts of former University President Rev. Edward Malloy, CSC, for the sense of partnership with city leaders that the current administration inherited. “There’s a very strong realization that our futures are tied together,” he notes.

At the June 3 ground breaking, South Bend Mayor Stephen J. Luecke voiced his expectation that the Eddy Street project would boost revitalization efforts across the city.

“We celebrate the beginning of a project,” University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, CSC, added. “We also celebrate the fruition of a wonderful partnership.”

The first structure to go up will be a 1,280-space parking garage that will be fronted by apartments over retail along Eddy and Edison and condominiums along Napoleon, as well as a Marriott hotel facing Edison Road directly south of Notre Dame Stadium. When complete, the Commons will incorporate a second, limited-service hotel, 90,000 square feet of ground-level retail space and 75,000 square feet of office space.

Future phases call for additional housing farther south along Eddy and a commercial rehabilitation of the “Five Points” district where Eddy intersects State Road 23.

Trends in the national economy are spiking similar projects in other cities, but South Bend economic development planner Bill Schalliol says demand for new commercial and residential space in South Bend hasn’t flagged.

From that standpoint, Schalliol adds, “Eddy Street Commons is really coming online at the right place and the right time.”