Now, 17 years later, the questions are finally answered. In June, the University announced plans for Xavier Square, a mixed-use development created in partnership with the Covington, Ky.-based Corporex. The project, which is set to break ground in 2008, not only marks a new chapter in University history, but also gives a positive boost to the surrounding neighborhoods as well.
Projections for Xavier Square include housing for 550 students, the University bookstore, student recreation center, the McGrath Health and Counseling Center, 120 housing units for area residents, 100,000 square feet of retail space, 120,000 square feet of office space, a 90-room boutique hotel, a bar, coffee shop, structured underground parking and a restaurant. It also includes a street grid system that weaves together the University and the neighborhoods surrounding campus.
All of this sits on a 20-acre site that includes about six-and-a-half acres that were once the BASF property and another 14 acres made up of various properties the University acquired over the past several years. Most notable among these are the Zumbiel Packaging plant and a watering hole rich in Xavier lore: The Norwood Café.
Xavier Square marks a number of University firsts, both internal and external.
“One weakness has always been that there’s nothing nearby for students to do,” says John Kucia, Xavier’s administrative vice president. “For the first time we’re able to address that. With this new strategic plan, we need to grow enrollment, and in order to grow enrollment we need more housing. But we don’t need to own more housing or operate more housing; we just need to provide more housing that’s available to our students. That will help increase enrollment and also help draw into campus some of the students who are living out in the neighborhoods.”
The project also represents the first time Xavier has involved the community in its campus master plan.
“It’s the first time that we’ve looked beyond the borders and realized that the health and vitality of the University and the community are interdependent, and to that end we involved the community as we developed the different interactions,” Kucia says. “Cincinnati, Norwood and Evanston have been very involved and are buying into the plan. We’ll have to work with both the city of Cincinnati and the city of Norwood at the same time in developing this land.”
In fact, Evanston, Xavier and the city of Cincinnati began working about seven years ago on a plan to develop just the south part of the area, essentially the BASF property, according to Liz Blume, associate director for the Community Building Institute at Xavier. Kucia says the idea gathered steam three or four years ago with the purchase of the Zumbiel factory. By the time the University undertook a new campus master plan two years ago, the idea of a university village was definitely on the radar.
Through a lengthy process, the University picked Corporex to partner with in developing the land. Corporex is the region’s largest real estate developer with office, industrial, retail and hotel properties. It’s responsible for all of the revitalization of the Covington, Ky., riverfront across from downtown Cincinnati, and its newest development, The Ascent, was designed by renowned architect Daniel Lebeskind, who’s also the master planner for the new World Trade Center site. “We will own all the land,” says Kucia. “The lease is with Corporex. They will do this development over an approximate 30-year period. At the end of 30-35 years, the whole project will become Xavier’s.”
“Our relationship with Corporex is unique,” says Blume, “because they were willing to be there as full partners with us and take on potential market risk and maybe receive a profit off of it. Their being willing to take this risk is what made the project possible. They’re also a big enough firm to accomplish what we needed to accomplish.” “Xavier Square is a place that will weave retail, residential, office, hotel and education together to create a new urbanity that will benefit the students as well as the communities that surround Xavier,” says Butler.
Plans call for the first student housing to be ready on the site for fall semester 2009. Necessary rezoning will be completed before the end of the year. And, because of the general consensus and community support, no one anticipates delays.
Xavier Square’s buildings will be between four and seven stories, and will be arranged around a square similar to nearby Hyde Park Square.
The presence of a hotel is critical in that it both serves the campus and creates opportunities for more use of the Cintas Center.
“The site is in that first outer ring from downtown, and it’s closer than going out to the farther suburbs such as Kenwood,” Kucia says. “So the opportunity to stay at a hotel on a campus with all of the look and amenities there could be very appealing.”
Demolition on the site will begin as early as this fall and take three to six months, according to Bob Sheeran, the University’s associate vice president for facilities management. Zumbiel, which will take the longest of all the buildings to demolish, will be the first to go. It is also possible, Sheeran says, that the brick and concrete in Zumbiel could be pulverized and used for landfill for the project, meaning it will never leave the site.
“It’s a lot different than going out to Mason and developing a cornfield,” Sheeran says.
“It’s complicated because it’s in two different municipalities—Norwood and Cincinnati—and it has a railroad running through it. It has a series of existing buildings that need to be removed, and there are many buildings and each one requires a separate permit and certain things we have to do to take it down.”
The BASF site has its own set of challenges. “When that building blew up, it wasn’t really demolished in terms of all the foundations taken out,” Sheeran says. “We don’t really know what’s there from a rubble standpoint, but we know there’s rubble down there. And then as we look at this site, we’re also going to be looking at it in conjunction with the Hoff Academic Quad and how we handle a variety of things, storm runoff for example. We could end up with some storm water retention ponds that those sites share.”
The end result: Xavier Square will make the University feel a lot more like a part of Cincinnati—and part of an urban experience, Blume says. “It’s the first time that we’ve really created a university village that’s a place where there’s the opportunity to connect students with the community in a physical sort of way and in a new sort of way,” she says. “Right now you’re either on or off campus; there’s no in between. Most universities have that in-between zone.”
That in-between zone should also revitalize the surrounding neighborhoods. “It will bring economic activity to a place where there was almost none,” Blume says. “It will bring jobs and energy to the housing markets in Evanston, Norwood and probably North Avondale.”
In a word, Xavier Square opens the door to opportunity. “It gives the University a new face other than Victory Parkway,” Blume says. “It’s a real attempt to create much more of an interface between the University and the community. Having these entry points to campus along with Ledgewood and Dana show that we’re saying, ‘We’re here, and we want you to come in and join us.’”