The Blue-and-Gold Coast

Author: Ken Bradford '76

Bradfordhousing2cashore Photography by Matt Cashore ’94

At the end of his junior year in 1979, Matt DeSalvo and five friends from Dillon Hall decided it was time to move off campus.

For their senior year, they chose an old house on Notre Dame Avenue, a half-mile south of the main gate. It was gritty but fun. They had friends nearby at the Notre Dame Apartments and in a house on St. Peter Street. They could walk to campus, the grocery store and, of course, the student bars at Eddy and Corby.

“It was a growing-up period,” he recalls. “The local area could be tough at times. Burglaries were fairly common. We had several ourselves. But we felt part of the community in a way and loved the experience.”

Four decades later, DeSalvo ’80 is back in that neighborhood as the developer of Golden View Townhomes. As a partner in Shamrock Realty, he’s involved in the building boom that is offering high-quality living space to today’s students and, increasingly, folks in his own age group.

If you’ve stayed away from Notre Dame for the past 10 years, you may have trouble finding it. The campus is wearing camouflage. Gone are the neighborhood landmarks that let you know you were on the doorstep of your old home. In their place are gleaming, new three- and four-story structures whose purposes seem unclear.

The Big Bang came in 2008, when the University partnered with Kite Realty on Eddy Street Commons. Ever since, the local real-estate universe has been expanding, spitting out opportunities for developers and investors.

Some are apartment buildings that house the University’s 4,000 or so graduate students. Others are squeaky-clean town houses or condos — owned by football fans, alumni or students’ parents — that sit empty for all but a handful of weekends per year.

East of campus, where old bungalows once filled postwar streets, stands a maze of complexes with names like Irish Row, the Overlook, Stadium Village, Irish Crossings, Ivy Quad, Wexford Place and Irish Flats. Northwest of campus are The Landings at Notre Dame, under construction for married students, and Dublin Village apartments near the entrance to the Indiana Toll Road.

South of campus is more intense. Eddy Street Commons is a country in itself, with shops, offices and restaurants at the ground level and upscale apartments above. Its national bird would be a cement mixer. Its success has encouraged other developers, like DeSalvo, to push even farther south, past where students from his era once spilled beers in hovels like Corby’s, Bridget McGuire’s and Nickies.

The area, once a rundown, Hoboken kind of place, now tilts more toward Manhattan. Nostalgia aside, even the beer is better now.

The University can claim to be the center of this universe, but the Big Bang was at Eddy Street Commons. Continue south and you’re rarely away from the whir of power saws or the smell of new paint.

Even with the jolt of the coronavirus, the work goes on.

Homebuilding isn’t what DeSalvo expected to be doing at this stage in his life. After graduation from business school, he worked in investment banking and kept ties with Notre Dame by recruiting alumni to Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse in New York City. He’s had football season tickets for the past 40 years, assists Notre Dame’s career development office and serves on the business school’s advisory council. He’s also had a lot of time to explore South Bend while visiting his two sons — Corey ’11 and Nicholas ’20.

The Big Bang came in 2008, when the University partnered with Kite Realty on Eddy Street Commons. Ever since, the local real-estate universe has been expanding, spitting out opportunities for developers and investors.

“The successful building of Eddy Street Commons and the town houses on Napoleon Street was, I believe, a game changer in the University embracing the local community,” DeSalvo says.


The project he’s developing with son Corey bears no resemblance to his own student experience. Each of the six homes will have roughly 4,000 square feet on four levels, with two-car garages, granite countertops, custom cabinetry and second-floor laundries.

It’s not kid stuff. He’s selling to grown-ups.

“Parents today come back to campus more often than our parents ever did, and that dynamic is here to stay,” DeSalvo says. “Attending a football weekend and having their children’s roommates or friends over for a dinner party is in high demand from both sides. In addition, there are just more events now through the calendar year, beyond just football, to have shared experiences.”

Terrie Hoofnagle has watched it happen. As general manager of ESC Property Sales, she recalls her first office there as a trailer on the east edge of the Commons in 2008, before the blue-and-gold rush began. Her properties now line the south side of Angela Boulevard, between the Fairfield Inn and the Linebacker.

She doesn’t recall being nervous at all when her projects began. “I think there was much forethought put into it by Notre Dame,” Hoofnagle says. “The whole Eddy Street Commons project has been well received and that continues to be true today.

“I actually have a waiting list for all four of our communities — Legends Row, Victory View, Champions Way and Triumph Court,” she says. “We also have a new community under construction currently at the south end of Eddy Street. It’s named Quigley Place Townhomes. There will be seven new town houses in the area by the new Robinson Community Learning Center.

“The demand for high-quality housing is still strong. As crazy as it is, even during this pandemic, people are planning ahead and reaching out to see what’s available and how soon they can get in.”

For the most part, these houses would qualify as something like summer lakefront property, without the summer or the lake. She estimates that 95 percent of her buyers are parents and alumni who come to campus just for sports weekends or advisory board events. Just like vacation communities, the houses offer a sense of stability. “Some will turn over after a number of years, but some will stay in the family for many years to come,” Hoofnagle says.

One unintentional result has been that some alumni come back for a weekend and never leave. Mark Witkowski ’76 can tell that story.

In the years since his graduation, Witkowski’s business had allowed him to move all over the country. One of the few constants was Notre Dame, where he and his wife Debbie would come for home football weekends.

Eventually, they bought season tickets and in 2000 invested in a one-bedroom suite at the Varsity Club in Mishawaka. It was an OK idea but, over the years, while meeting with the same three families at every game, they all felt they wanted something more.

“We were still out there in the Joyce South parking lot, talking at 10:30 at night after every game, until the stadium guards would send us home,” Witkowski recalls. Sometimes, particularly when they were cold and wet, they would look wistfully across Angela at the new town houses under construction at Champions Way.

“It sure looked like it would be more fun tailgating over there than over here,” he says. The four families formed a partnership in 2011 and bought a four-bedroom unit, customizing the garage for tailgating and adding two extra bathrooms for their guests. It was great.

Next door to that unit was one owned by David Robinson, the NBA Hall of Famer whose son Corey ’17 played football and was student body president at Notre Dame. Witkowski was retiring in 2017 at the same time Corey was preparing for graduation, so he asked if the Robinsons would consider selling.

“And that’s where Debbie and I are living now,” he says.

Witkowski realizes they are outliers and that a vast majority of these sorts of condos and town houses serve as vacation getaways. Of the 62 units in his cluster, only six are occupied year-round, he says.

They’ve chosen South Bend for their retirement not because Mark pines for those days when he slept in Pangborn Hall and ate at South Dining Hall. “You always live a little in the past,” he says, “but there is so much new here. When we were here [as students], there was no performing arts center, no hockey arena. I’ve been in the construction business, so I’m like a sidewalk superintendent for all the projects here. There’s so much going on.”

As a couple that has had many hometowns, this is now a hub. “Based on the fact that we have lived all around the country, we have this continuous flow of friends coming here, particularly for football weekends,” he says.

“I would never have considered it if we had not seen this development from our tailgating,” he adds. “The key thing is being able to walk across that street to the stadium.”

Like most people, you may have some sticker shock when you see the prices for new town houses. Let’s allow Pat McCull-ough ’67, an associate broker with Irish Realty, to show how the numbers can work for you.

His company is developing The Echoes, a 26-unit gated community just a seven-minute walk from campus. McCullough knows some investors are becoming squeamish about the stock market, which gives real estate a boost. “It’s exploded, and it’s going to keep going,” he says.

Using The Echoes as an example, he says you can buy a $550,000 property, pay 20 percent down and finance the rest. With rates below 4 percent, your principal and interest could run about $24,000 a year, which seems like a lot.

However, you’d be renting the place out. The going rate for high-quality, four-bedroom homes close to campus currently is about $6,000 per weekend. If that sounds high, check the rates on

When normal times return, start with the six home football games and graduation. But large groups also come for weddings at the basilica (four of them every Saturday during the summer), for Babe Ruth baseball tournaments and the baton-twirling national competition. Notre Dame also has scheduled stadium concerts for Garth Brooks and other big-name performers, and last summer the Warren Golf Course hosted the U.S. Senior Open.

McCullough would expect to rent 12 weekends per year. Every prospective renter will hear about that seven-minute walk.

So, you’re spending $24,000 a year plus whatever it costs for utilities, insurance, taxes, maintenance and fees, while taking in $72,000. You’ll come out ahead. In the meantime, real estate typically gains value over time. Figure the increase at 2.5 percent. If you want out in 2030, you’ve been making money for 10 years and you can sell the home for $721,000.

That’s how you afford that town house.

You won’t need an expert like McCullough to understand the rental market in upscale apartments for students. A two-bedroom unit in swanky Irish Row (4.7 stars on Google reviews), if you can get in, has a monthly rent of about $1,800. At the more modest Indian Lakes in Mishawaka (3.5 stars), a two-bedroom unit starts at $885. But it’s an eight-minute Uber ride away from where the good times roll seven nights a week.

If Irish Row sounds expensive, keep in mind that room and board on campus runs almost $16,000 a year. Figuring a student’s share of the rent at $900 a month for a full-year lease, that’s $10,800. Another $5,000-plus buys two meals a day at campus dining halls — a draw until that coffee at Starbucks on the way to class and a beer or two at Brothers on the way home.

Students will still need help from Santa Claus — and a Visa card.

This doesn’t sound too crazy to Kenny Kent, who has been renting homes to Notre Dame students for more than three decades. The main difference now is in the expectations.

“It used to be you would get six kids crammed into three bedrooms,” he says. “When they moved out, you would need a bulldozer to clean it up. Now the demand is there for granite tops and big-screen TVs, and parents don’t think anything these days about spending $800 or more a month for a bedroom.”

Because of its emphasis on campus life, Notre Dame requires students to live in residence halls for their first six semesters. The Division of Student Affairs has a site,, for those who want to try apartment life as seniors.

In Kent’s experience, parents often provide a nudge to get their students out of the dorms. It can be a chance to explore independent living and, maybe, to prepare themselves for real-world responsibilities, he says.

“A lot of kids aren’t really good at that,” Kent chuckles. “When they’ve moved out, you see they haven’t opened the washer and dryer, and they only thing used in the kitchen are the microwaves and the stovetops. You see lots of pizza boxes.”

As a real estate agent, Kent also buys and sells for Notre Dame customers. It’s easy to focus on all the new construction, but there’s been a long-overdue surge in older home sales, too. He recalls going to an auction a decade ago on Eddy Street, hoping to buy an antique horse swing for a friend. He ended up buying the house as well — for less than he spent on the toy.

Those bargains are gone. Similarly troubled homes within a mile of campus, if you can find them before the rehabbers swoop in, are listed in the $75,000 range or more.

Still, compared with many markets, prices here are low. Out-of-town buyers know they can scoop up an older house here and still have cash left over for more than a new coat of paint.

Kent recalls a West Coast attorney buying a home for $130,000 and immediately putting another $130,000 into renovations. “He has seven kids and he hopes all seven will go to Notre Dame,” the broker says.

Between his children using the house during the student years and his own visits for football weekends, the buyer saw the quarter-million-dollar total expense as a bargain, especially considering Los Angeles prices. “This,” Kent says, “was like nothing to him.”

Ken Bradford is a freelance writer and former reporter and editor at the South Bend Tribune.