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The master plan for the area, situated between the city’s Second Ward and Lindenwald, about 1.5 miles south of the downtown, envisions a dense development with a mix of businesses and residences, said Jody Gunderson, the city’s director of economic development.
Several developers were interested in the project, Gunderson said, but ARK “really wanted to dig into it.”
“They did some market studies, they feel good about it, and they like what’s happening at Miami University and Vora Technology Park,” he said.
It’s good news for Miami’s Hamilton campus, because it means even more convenience for students, said Brennan Burks, director of public affairs for Miami’s regional campuses.
“It is very good news, because all of our students are commuter students,” Burks said. “Many of them are in the traditional age of 18-22, and many are a bit older, with families and jobs, and they’re working and coming to school at night.”
Students generally “are working when they can, but also trying to complete their degree in anywhere from four to six years,” he said. “And so one thing that is most valuable to them — and it’s a part of our advertising — is location, and flexibility and accessibility.”
“While we, as a regional, are not in the business whatsoever of advocating or looking for housing directly for our students, we are surely a supporter of anything that can help accommodate our students,” including local businesses in the immediate area, Burks said.
According to the University Commerce Park Master Plan created in 2013, the Miami Hamilton campus “currently serves a base of commuter students because no on-site student housing facilities are available.”
Officials also believe the $32 million South Hamilton Crossing highway project, which will directly link the immediate area to Ohio 4 and Pleasant Avenue, further enhances the area for new development.
“Miami University Hamilton is a tremendous asset to our community,” City Manager Joshua Smith told the Journal-News. “They are a large employer, provide exceptional educational opportunities at affordable costs and are civically engaged. We want to help them and Vora Tech Park/BarclayCard continue to grow in a positive fashion.”
Well-designed, market-rate housing “will assist both in terms of recruitment and retention of students and employees,” Smith added.
With an area that will have 3,000 students "and eventually 2,000 employees (between Miami University, CenterGrid and BarclayCard) located in this area, we need to work with the private sector to provide convenient commercial opportunities," Smith said.
“This will not only serve the immediate area but also residents of 2nd Ward and Lindenwald,” he said.
It’s important the new housing development look “very much” like the upscale apartment complex depicted in a rendering provided to the city, Gunderson said.
ARK's original drawings were "not acceptable," Smith said. As an example of what officials want the complex to look like, the city pointed to Roebling Row, a development near the Covington, Ky., base of the Roebling Suspension Bridge.
Roebling Row, developed by Towne Properties, is described on its website as a development that “offers residents the amenities of tomorrow wrapped in the architecture of the past. Roebling Row contains one and two bedroom apartments in a four-story, all masonry, rowhouse-style building that is sensitive to the surrounding historic neighborhood.”
“They really tried to capture the essence of that,” Smith said. “Obviously, it’s a different product — Roebling Row’s a bit more urban in nature, this is on a greenfield site — but we really thought this was a more timeless look than what they originally had shown us.”
ARK plans to build 204 market-rate two-bedroom apartments in 15 three-story buildings on the mostly vacant land.
The company is to start construction by late 2017, with completion by the end of 2018, according to its development agreement with the city.
ARK will pay Hamilton $15,825 per acre for approximately 17 acres in the area, with an option to buy more property in the area for $20,000 before Dec. 21, 2018.