BY LAUREN RAMSEYER
The administration of Franciscan University announced March 27 its plans for commercial development construction on its Green Strip property on University Boulevard to stimulate local economic growth and alleviate overcrowding in the student residence halls.
The property is located adjacent to Sandella’s on lower campus and the new development plans consist of a new hotel and the potential for two restaurants. Future phases of construction may include a meeting center, retail and office space.
The cost of this new commercial development on the Green Strip will be paid through the revenue generated from the hotel and the rental agreements generated from retail tenants on the property, said Tom Sofio, university spokesman. He also said it will not increase tuition rates and will not be funded by the university’s operating budget.
“For the past three years, Franciscan University has been actively investigating options for developing our property along University Boulevard,” said the university’s president, the Rev. Sean Sheridan, TOR. “Now that the pre-construction site analysis is completed, we can finalize our plans for the hotel and potential restaurants. We expect to break ground as early as this summer.”
According to Franciscan University’s press release, the new commercial development will assist economic growth, promote a more positive first impression of the university and allow Franciscan will to continue to offer hospitality to area visitors, including the thousands of guests who come to the university for admissions visits, commencement exercises and youth and adult conferences.
The university intends this venture to also help alleviate overcrowding in the university’s 11 student residence halls with the old Best Western University Inn potentially being repurposed into student housing.
Sheridan said the residence hall population has grown by 400 students since 2005 and the university now has over 1,500 students living on campus – 70 students over the optimal capacity. He said that renovating the Best Western could provide housing for 180 students.
The new mixed-use commercial development will be another positive sign of local economic growth and activity, Sheridan said.
“Mayor Domenick Mucci, City Manager Tim Boland and Jefferson County Port Authority Executive Director Evan Scurti have all expressed support of this endeavor and see it as a value for our local community,” Sheridan said, noting that the project supports other efforts to transform the area, such as those led by the Steubenville Downtown Revitalization Group and Steubenville Hilltop Community Corporation.
“There is absolutely no question that this development has great value, but it will be very complex,” said Mucci at the March 18 city council meeting, according to the Herald-Star. “This won’t happen overnight but working together is a good sign for all of us.”
The university announced that the new hotel will remain a Best Western Plus University Inn and will include 114 guest rooms and a swimming pool. The restaurants will be identified after negotiations are complete.
“We know that success attracts success, and Franciscan University hopes our commercial development will inspire other developers and businesses to choose Steubenville,” Sheridan said.
According to the Herald-Star, the Green Strip was purchased by Franciscan University in 2006 as part of a $2.9 million deal in which the university also came into possession of the Bellview golf course on the north end of campus.
The project will be developed through Good Venture Properties, LLC, an affiliate of Franciscan University.
This is exciting news. I just hope that our school can keep up its spirituality with the influx of new students. They come for formation above all else, which comes from already formed students. When they outnumber the upperclassmen, it’s difficult — especially on campus since all the school’s additional revenue isn’t being used to lower tuition or meal and housing costs, but to gain more money for building projects and sports, which may earn the school more money in the future. It’s hard for me to justify living on campus for formation to my parents when we are not extremely wealthy and it costs so much less to live and eat in town. The reason our school has a rich spiritual life in the midst of corrupted Catholic schools is because poverty is more important to the Franciscans than the Jesuits. In fact, the Jesuits were the first asked to run the school, but they refused because there wasn’t enough money. Only the Franciscans were able to work with the little bit, make it what it is, and revive it with Fr. Michael Scanlan.