Shodeen Tries Again with University Commons

Shodeen proposed apartment building
Rants and Raves of Mac McIntyre
Rants and Raves of Mac McIntyre

As a resident of DeKalb I just want to give Kent Shodeen a shout out. Thanks for trying to invest in DeKalb. That’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. I hope his investments in the Barb City provide value to the community and pay off handsomely for him. That’s the win-win scenario community development should bring.

His latest plan and he has spent years trying to get something going for the West Lincoln to Pearl Street to the river property is going to face stiff opposition at Monday night’s city council committee of the whole meeting. Again.

Shodeen proposed apartment building
Shodeen proposed apartment building

This version includes a four-story apartment building and a downtown hotel. On paper it’s just what the downtown needs — a substantial increase in the number of customers within walking distance and an anchor to draw the lucrative heads in beds tourism consumers. Considering what’s already been invested in the downtown area and what will need to be invested in the near future should DeKalb win, place or show in the America’s Best Communities competition, well, Shodeen’s project is just what the planners ordered.

But take your eyes away from the plan and look to see what’s actually happening in DeKalb especially among those who have already invested in the city and that’s where the concerns begin.

Local businessman and investment property owner William Heinisch posted on City Barbs Facebook Group: Rental vacancy is approximately 10%+ away from the college and I know of up to 50% close to the college. This is not sustainable and I believe this proposal will only take away from current landlords, it will not bring anyone new into the community.

Heinisch has valid points. Too many apartments in DeKalb are vacant already. Adding to the supply side of the rental market when demand is low increases the mortgage failure rate among existing investors. The higher the vacancy rate the bigger the share of the property taxes that come from out-of-pocket of the investor. With the debt payments for new schools, police station, library plus the airport as well as mounting pension obligations the tax pie was already getting pricey.

Shodeen is seeking variances for higher density than current zoning permits and less parking than it allows. Such requests demand more scrutiny and due diligence than any award winning plan for DeKalb City Center provides.

Shodeen proposed hotel
Shodeen proposed hotel

The dangling carrot or perhaps pearl of the project is the hotel. A downtown hotel nestled along a riverwalk. How cool is that? If it became a destination hotel for the Chicagoland area it could really put Downtown DeKalb on the map.

But if it becomes yet another hotel competing for less customers then the same points by Heinisch are valid for the hospitality sector.

Frankly I’m surprised that any marketing and feasibility study supports such an investment at this time in DeKalb. NIU wouldn’t be the suitcase university it is if Chicago wasn’t so conveniently close. Where’s the demand for new heads in beds?

If Shodeen is able to put together the private financing to build and operate a hotel by all means let him. But if TIF dollars are involved in any way or any other public/private partnership where public debt or taxes are at stake then Shodeen and whoever recommends approval of his plan must have the burden of proving beyond any reasonable doubt that the hotel plan is not a boondoggle.

Expect a lively public discourse on Shodeen’s proposal. Many will speak favorably on getting something going in DeKalb and in support of the project. At least just as many will speak to the consequences of oversupplying the demand.

Here’s hoping for a win-win.

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  1. I have heard DeKalb cost of living equals that of a Chicago suberb while the pay rates do not. You can’t just put in more housing without addressing this issue. We don’t need more empty housing. AND if I were staying in a hotel and had to deal with the train right behind me I would be upset and demand some forms of compensation for losing sleep. Especially if I were here on business and the interrupted sleep affected my ability to tend to said business.

  2. Rentals are so deteriorated in DeKalb yet ask premium prices. There are a lot of people looking for a place but can’t afford the up front and then monthly prices. The counties around DeKalb are much more affordable, so I’m not sure adding more is the answer unless the price is affordable. Reduce the property taxes!

  3. I spent the 1974-5 academic year living at 134 S Pearl St. This may come as a surprise, but trains running on the track were LOUD! Although I could adjust somewhat and learned to sleep long before the year ended, a good hotel doesn’t have the luxury of allowing its customers to adjust their sleeping habits. For guests of the hotel – and thus of DeKalb, – plan to leave groggy and miserable. If the hotel fails, as it likely will if word gets out, we will be left with a large empty box that will require 20 years before it is taken down.

  4. Dekalb lacks NICE apartments from what I have seen when we were looking. If the rent price is right, it would be great. When we decide to move ( we’ll see if the new owners are to our standards), we would have to move away from here. I’d like to see more family friendly places.

  5. I don’t highly of what shodeen has done in the fox valley , shoddy construction etc. I don’t think Delalb can handle any sustainability in its downtown , I have lived in the area for 48 yrs and dekalbs downtown has been a turnstile for busnisses for years while it continues to crumble

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