PITTSBURG — New town, new apartment, new friends and new sorority.
“I absolutely love it,” Pittsburg State University junior Emily Jardes said about her studio apartment at Block22.
Jardes is moving from Cottey College to Pittsburg State University to study international business.
Jardes said she looks forward to the more “independent feeling” of living in a studio apartment after living in dorms. Her mother, Janet Jardes agreed and said, “I think it is fantastic, there’s so much history in this building and I feel like her moving in here feels special.”
The Jardes’ also said it was “pretty cool” to have PSU President Steve Scott visit Emily’s room and meet her for the very first time.
Block22 leases “start today,” Scott said on Saturday.
“This is the day we see the vision for Block22 start to become a reality,” he said. “I think it’s important to note this is one of the first steps.”
He said there’s even more to look forward to in the next two phases — finishing the Foundry, businesses and restaurants.
According to a release, the Foundry, located east of Broadway on the ground level of the National Bank and Opera House Hotel buildings, is expected to open in September. The new restaurants, TOAST, Brick + Mortar, Cali Burrito and Root Coffeehouse & Creperie, will be located west of Broadway on the ground level of the Commerce and Baxter buildings and are expected to open later this fall.
Installation of the elevators is expected to be complete by around Oct. 1, the release said.
A few “punch list” items remain after the students moved in Saturday.
“We’ll have a number of different things — dings and dents, paint that needs to be completed,” Scott said. “But we thought it was really important to get the students in here and have them start to experience this, even though we know their lives would be a little disrupted as we finish up.”
The buildings — National Bank of Pittsburg and the Opera House Hotel at 408 and 410 N. Broadway, along with the Crowell Pharmacy buildings at 401 and 405 N. Broadway — are over 100 years old and were becoming unsafe for the public, Pittsburg Deputy City Manager Jay Byers said.
“Coming into this building is really satisfying,” Byers said. “Less than three years ago, we were making plans to demolish these buildings, they were becoming public safety hazards.”
Now, the buildings are “absolutely” safe and are up to code, Scott said.
“The city, fire department, Honeywell, CDL, we were all here until after midnight making sure everything was in place and we can assure students and parents that these buildings are absolutely safe … even though these are old, old buildings, they have been brought up to code,” he said.
“The city has been extraordinary,” Scott said. “The city led the way on this project and at the 11th hour last night the city was here and we would not have been here without the city’s support.
“City leaders and city departments, all of them made a difference in this.”
PSU housing leadership will oversee the buildings and students must follow the same rules the residence halls on campus have, Scott said.
The renovations cost nearly $18 million. PSU is leasing the properties from Vecino Group for 20 years with an opportunity to purchase in five years.
Between the $1.5 million the City of Pittsburg has contributed to the project, the $1 million raised by the University and more than $10 million in tax credits — including a federal New Market Tax Credit which has only been previously used five times in Kansas — PSU is only looking at about $5 million in debt service. A number low enough, that if the school is able to fill the apartments, it will be cash-flow positive in the first year.
Byers and Scott noted the project is about the future of the students and the city.
“The way they have integrated it into the history of the town, with all of these different companies on the doors, the way they brought the entrepreneurial spirit of Pittsburg to the buildings, has been exceptional,” Byers said. “We want to keep moving forward, it shows us it can be done and it’s an example of ‘Forward Together’ — the university, the city, a lot of the citizens are involved and the businesses on the first floor.”
The Foundry, Byers said, is an “incubator” where students can be surrounded by a support network and be awakened by the “entrepreneurial spirit” in Pittsburg. Then, create their businesses and reside in Pittsburg as their home for generations to come.
Among the first to sign-up for a Block22 apartment, Kailey Pearson not only became a resident, but is also starting a business called Sonder & Company. Pearson will be joining her friend and fellow PSU student Brittan Brenner on this endeavour.
Sonder & Company will be a boutique-style store-front showcasing and selling the works of area artisans and is expected to open later this fall. The business is planned to be at Fourth Street on the ground level of the Commerce Building.
“I’m excited to be able to invest in our downtown and be in a place with like-minded individuals — plus they look amazing,” Pearson said.
Pearson said she counted down the hours to move into the apartment and later, when their store is open, she “may never leave the building.”
“It’s the dream place to live, plus it’s a dream place to have a store and it will all be in one package,” she said. “I’ll be able to look back and say, ‘I remember when I was there’ and ‘I remember setting up my first store there.’”
For the first time, Halle Hewitt, elementary education unified student, will be living by herself.
She is a sophomore and she previously lived in dorms. Hewitt said she was looking for a “reasonably priced” place to live that was also “cute.”
Well, she got it, she said. Her room features a pull-down bed for space and big windows.
“I love history of this building,” Hewitt said. “It’s exciting to be among the first of people to live here.”
Allison Lusby is a nursing student in her junior year. She used to live in the dorms too.
Now she’s among the first to live at Block22 in a studio apartment, with historical elements left behind including a vault door.
Lusby said she’s always liked the downtown district and to move in is “exciting.”
“It’s nice to see historical buildings renovated and used in a new way — just take a look at the doors,” she said.
Her roommate from her “dorm days” isn’t too far, she’s in another room down the hallway.
Lusby said she’s also looking forward to Root Coffeehouse & Creperie being close by.
After the students were done moving in Saturday, they had an opportunity to learn about Pittsburg. The Colonial Fox Theatre Foundation and Westar Energy, in collaboration with the City of Pittsburg, Craw-Kan Telephone, MPIX, Jake’s Fireworks and PSU, hosted a Back to Broadway Celebration to welcome the new downtown student residents in Block22 by introducing them to the entertainment, shopping and service options.
About the Block22 residences
Block22 is located at 4th and Broadway and consists of four historic buildings. There are approximately 97 apartments in four different styles — suite, flat, studio and loft.
The rooms are fully furnished, the kitchens include appliances, there’s a washer/dryer combo in each unit and all utilities are included.
It costs students between $525 - $650 per month. Rates include utilities.
A community shuttle will run from Block22 at Fourth and Broadway to Cleveland and Broadway on PSU’s main campus. The shuttle, which is open to everyone, runs from 7:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. It’s a 15-minute round trip.
BICYCLING AND WALKING
The Active Transportation Advisory Board has been working with the City of Pittsburg to, “encourage more active transportation, cycling, walking, jogging, dog walking and to get infrastructure in place so that its possible and is safer doing so,” Active Transportation Advisory Board Chair Deborah McGeorge said.
The board has recommended creating “preferred routes,” which are streets with less traffic which may be more preferable for walking and cycling. People may learn more about the routes by contacting the ATAB at Pittsburg City Hall. Signs for new routes will be going up in the near future.
McGeorge said taking any of the routes are completely optional and give people another route when confronted by heavier traffic when bicycling or walking.
Pitt State students living at Block22 will have designated parking areas in Downtown Pittsburg.
“Following an extensive study of downtown parking availability, the City of Pittsburg identified 100 parking spots in five different public lots that would be reserved for Block22 residents,” a release said.
Students living at Block22 will receive special parking tags that allow them to park in Block22-specific spots downtown and in the large Brown Lots on main campus.
Full details of the Block22 parking plan is available on the City of Pittsburg’s website.
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.