College life coming to Downtown Marion

News Release Date: 

Local developer plans apartment space for OSUM/MTC students

Published in the Saturday, March 30, 2013 edition of The Marion Star
Written by Michelle Rotuno-Johnson and Kurt Moore

MARION — Local developer Lois Fisher has big plans for the Marion Star building, once reporters, editors and advertising staff move out.

Fisher wants to turn the 30,000-square-foot building into a number of living units for students at The Ohio State University at Marion and Marion Technical College. She will call it Starfish, for the Marion Star’s history in the building and her own last name.

“Since 1968, when OSU had its first building, there has been a vision that we would have housing,” Fisher said.

“It just seems that it is more and more of a need. If we want to become a college town, we need housing downtown.”

She said this will help connect downtown Marion with the two colleges.

“It will be very expensive. But in the long term, we think it’s a great investment for youth and for downtown,” Fisher said.

She said her family is going to fund the project, which she estimated at about $1 million. Architect Paul Omness said it could be finished by the beginning of 2014.

Fisher said she is envisioning living spaces for at least 100 students. The Starfish building would have 25 separate units that each house four people. The units would have two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living area and a kitchen.

There also would be community space for the students to come together. Fisher said she hopes to get a small store for the students, and some kind of recreational area. She said there would be a place for a resident assistant or “den mother” to support the students.

At a tour she gave to city and county leaders this week, Fisher also mentioned a coffee shop, a laundry facility and a plaza out front.

Parking, storage and transportation to the colleges are in the works. Marion Area Transit is close by, in case students don’t have cars.

“We are re-investing in the community,” Fisher said. “It’s excellent for downtown.”
Two floors of the Marion Star are largely unused. The paper has been in the building since the 1920s, after Warren G. Harding sold it — he never printed his Star on Court Street.

The second floor was used as a Knights of Columbus hall and a school house. The building has steam heating and sprinkler systems throughout, has a strong foundation and some sturdy wood flooring. Fisher said all of these characteristics make it a very attractive option.

“We’ll spend what we have to, to make it what it needs to be today,” she said.
A new part of the campuses

Nicole Workman, director of public relations at MTC, said that the project could help foster the development of a student community on Marion Campus.

“We have over 650 high school students,” she said, referring to students taking courses while still enrolled in high school. “I could see this being a great filter for students to finish their two-year degree before they transfer to Ohio State or any other four-year university. This will help them get the college experience.”

Dave Claborn, director of development and community relations at OSUM, praised Fisher’s idea.

“Lois has always been a visionary.  We are blessed to have her in the community,” he said.

Claborn said Ohio State Marion has been discussing its options as far as student housing for a long time. He said, though, that Fisher’s idea stretches beyond living spaces when it comes to downtown Marion.

“It’s about creating a community there,” he said, discussing ideas such as restaurants that would cater to students.

The campus provides incoming students with a list of housing options. He said that is often commercial apartment complexes where room may not be available. He suggested having more housing will help increase enrollment.

More students are starting their time at Ohio State on regional campuses because of the selective admission policy of the main campus. That means more students either need to find housing or commute long distances to go to school.

Claborn said Ohio State Marion is the only OSU campus that does not have housing of some sort available, as some campuses have housing options built by private developers that market it for students.

He said part of Ohio State Marion’s effort must be providing some sort of collaboration with the students living downtown and the campus student life department.

“Even if they are living a couple miles away, it will be good to make them feel a part of the campus,” he said.
While there have been other discussions with developers about student housing, Claborn said if Fisher is successful it would be the first idea to lead to completion.
Campus officials, including Ohio State University president Gordon Gee, have mentioned the possibility of private developers when it comes to building some sort of housing for students.

“Down the road, is the university going to build housing?” Claborn asked. “Maybe, but who knows when?”

Ohio State University President Gordon Gee briefly referred to student housing during a visit Friday at Ohio State Marion, saying he is still in favor of building residence halls.
Student housing is on the 50-year plan for the Marion Campus.

When Claborn brought up the collaboration during Gee’s comments, Gee responded, “Hey Lois, keep it up.” Fisher was present during Gee’s talk.

The downtown connection
Downtown Marion Inc. will provide support to the project. Director Karen Herr said an influx of students would be good for the community. She said there is a lot in downtown Marion to attract college students, such as unique restaurants and small shops.

“We would be so happy to have them living here all the time,” she said.

“It’s been discussed around the community for, easily, 10 or 20 years.”

About 70 percent of OSUM and MTC students come from outside Marion. Herr said they need somewhere to stay, and the Starfish building could offer a cheaper, more convenient place for them to live. She said it could be a “good step” between living at home and renting an apartment for the first time.

Fisher said she hopes other businesses will invest in downtown if there are students living there. And maybe, down the road, there will be more opportunities for student housing.