Sewanee plans to build a new apartment complex for faculty and staff on Highway 41 at the Alabama Avenue intersection. Sewanee Village Ventures hopes to break ground in the first quarter of 2024 and finish the project in the Summer of 2025.
The apartment building is part of Sewanee’s long-awaited solution to a housing crisis for faculty employees that has plagued the University community for decades. Houses on the domain have become more and more expensive, beyond the price range of an individual with a University faculty or staff salary. In Sewanee, it costs $250 to $300 per square foot to build a house, making an average 1000-square-foot home cost at least $300,000. In 2022 and 2023, the University worked to build five new homes exclusively for purchase by University employees. The administration also reallocated six theme houses for employee rental housing. The five newly constructed houses were sold to staff and faculty who entered into a lottery for a chance to buy in July 2023.
The new University apartment complex is expected to include 48 units, divided into six two-story buildings with eight units in each.
“The primary goal is to create additional homes for employees who aren’t necessarily seeking to own a single family home, or simply want to rent an apartment and be closer to campus,” said Sewanee Village Ventures executive director David Shipps, vice president of economic development and community relations. With no apartments currently available on the Domain and very few apartments in nearby towns, Shipps said, Sewanee Village Ventures hopes to fill that gap for University employees.
A number of studies have pointed out the need for affordable housing. The most recent, done by the Urban Land Institute, recommended the University do what it can to build population density in the downtown area to support businesses and encourage future business development.
”The topic of apartments has been spoken of for many years, and so we’ve just recently been able to put that into motion. So the question became, ‘Where could we put apartments?’” said Shipps. The University decided on the spot on Highway 41 and Alabama Avenue so the residents would increase population density in the Village area and be able to walk to campus. Sewanee Village Ventures plans to complete a leg of the Heritage Trail to the apartment complex, so faculty and staff are able to walk to campus on a more direct route than going through downtown.
Some community members have expressed concern about disruption to the village area while construction is taking place. “We will do as much as we can, as we do with any construction project on campus, to be considerate, particularly to those that live very close to the project,” Shipps said. Additionally, there has been concern about there being only one entrance and exit to the complex. “These [will] all be primarily people who work from 8-5 on weekdays. That means you’re gonna have 90 people trying to get out of one road to get to work in the morning,” said Greg Maynard, community member and former president of the Sewanee Business Alliance. With only one entrance and exit, there is concern about how easily emergency vehicles could access the apartment complex. That being said, Maynard noted that the apartments are “desperately needed” and that “the University is absolutely on the right track by building these apartments for faculty and staff.”
Shipps said Sewanee Village Ventures has not finalized the exterior look of the complex, but are “actively determining what will be financially achievable so that these buildings genuinely look like they do belong in Sewanee. That is a very important objective, because they’re meant to be enduring buildings that are going to be here for a long time serving the University.”
Despite talk in years past of allowing a third party to build apartments on the Domain, Shipps said, the University made sure that the apartment complex will be owned by the school to guarantee that they will exclusively be rented to University employees and that rent will be reasonable for faculty and staff salaries as determined by the University.
The complex will be financed through the University endowment. The apartment complex is considered an investment, with the plan of becoming, in time, a source of income for the University. “There [also] needs to be qualitative returns that allow the University to more readily achieve its mission, and building homes and apartments that allow employees to be on campus and part of the fabric of the University and the campus experience definitely checks that box,” Shipps said.
He added that Sewanee Village Ventures hopes to keep the community, students, and employees up to date on the development project as it progresses. Plans and mock ups are available on the University website. The feature photo for this article was retrieved from this website.
Sewanee prides itself on having a close relationship between students and professors. In the past few years, the absence of faculty living on campus has affected this culture of passing hellos and end-of-semester dinners with professors. With the building of the apartment complex, there is hope that the University will move towards renewing Sewanee’s culture.