New Student Housing Enhancing College Experience, Future for Springfield’s Young Tenants

Mar 27, 2015

Driving around the Missouri State University campus or downtown Springfield these days, you can’t help but notice construction projects at nearly every turn.  Student housing has been on the rise for the past few years, and once sparse choices are becoming a creative competition to provide unique experiences. 

On Kimbrough Avenue, just to the west of the MSU campus, stands a row of new student housing complexes where single family homes once stood.  Bryan Magers is the developer for Bear Village, which debuted two years ago. Its newest addition opened January.

“When people come to into town with their children to look for places to live at MSU—they’ve been to Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma State—and one of the things that was really missing at Missouri State was quality, off-campus housing,” says Magers.

Mary Lilly Smith, Springfield’s planning and development coordinator, says investing in student housing makes good economic sense.  Students who feel there are not attractive options might choose to go elsewhere.

“I think that Springfield has been behind the curve on student housing up until the last couple of years.  If you travel around the country and you look at the housing opportunities that surround most major campuses, there are a lot of newer student housing type projects around those campuses.  We were a little later coming to that game,” says Smith.

Magers says he began acquiring properties in the area in the 1970s and 80s and renting them to students with the plan of developing quality off campus housing.  He says Bear Village was the first off campus housing opportunity following the national trend of renting by the bed.  This means that students pay a flat rent for their bedroom and are not charged based upon roommates or lack thereof.  Students get their own personal bed and bath, shared living space with roommates, and a variety of amenities like pool, gym, clubhouse and security. 

“Even though it’s off campus, it’s really ‘on campus’ without the policies of having an RA, so that appealed as well along with the short commute to classes,” Tony says.

“You pay per bedroom so if you apartment doesn’t get filled you don’t pay for the empty bedroom,” says Tyler.

“I am the first student of my [transfer] university to come here so all of my friends who come here I talk to them and try to find apartment in the same building.  So we have eight Colombians here now,” Eduardo says.

That was Tony Stang, Tyler Bailey and Eduardo Amil.  Each says they love being so close to campus and feel that the amenities and benefits outweigh the higher rent they might pay.  All units are furnished, and utilities and amenities included.

Magers says he feels developing this area west of campus is beneficial not only to MSU and the students, but the community as a whole.

“The principal at Jarret [middle school] came by and asked to partner with them to help to provide sod and grass, put up a new fence along school boundary and the main thing is to fix up the basketball courts—really improving it for the students,” says Magers.

The partnership with Jarret will provide new facilities for the middle schools students that Bear Village residents can also utilize after hours.

Gary Stewart is director of Residence Life at MSU, and says the growing off-campus choices for students are a good thing.  But on campus does have its perks, too. Student housing could equal a lower upfront cost and flexibility of rent coinciding with financial aid.  And those on campus options are growing for upperclassmen.

“We’ve got 100 plus beds at Monroe Apartments [on campus] which is full and has a waiting list.  Students love living over there.  And we’re about to bring Sun Villa Tower back online, which is the 19 story high rise that will be available for upper classmen to occupy this coming August—around the 15th,” Stewart says.

Patrick McWhirt is creative director with the Vecino Group that is revitalizing many of the historic downtown structures.  All of these projects are available to everyone, he says, particularly students. 

“Each of our properties has to do something more than just be shelter or a roof over somebody’s head.  And really we have two areas we focus in—affordable supportive housing and market rate student housing.  And whichever one it is, it has to give back,” McWhirt says.

The collection of buildings is now called Park East, which includes the The Woodruff, the “U,” and here, inside The Sterling. The three structures will provide a unique living experience including monthly mentoring lectures, a shared bicycle and electric car program, and shared living amenities for residents.

“With student housing it’s a chance to positively impact their future—molding these kids. We can complement the curriculum they’re in by making them consider the community where they are living.  And how they live and how that affects everyone as a good neighbor,” says McWhirt.

McWhirt, along with Planning and Development Director Mary Lilly Smith, say these progressive options not only appeal to current students but may help attract “young talent” that decide to make Springfield home beyond their college years.