A tract of land across Blossom Street near the Colonial Life Arena could be the future site of new Greek housing if and when the University of South Carolina decides to expand.
The property is just one of three sites the university is considering as a way of responding to additional demands for housing for fraternities and sororities. University officials prefer that site, but say an expansion could be years in the making.
“Where we would need to expand would logically be in any of those parcels,” said Ed Walton, the university’s chief financial officer. “But none of them is decided upon. ... That’s just how preliminary this is.”
USC’s officials say more of the school’s Greek organizations want on-campus housing, and more Greek organizations want to start chapters at the campus of more than 30,000.
The number of Greek members on campus has doubled from what it was 12 years ago, Walton said.
Of the 40 Greek organizations currently at USC, two have more than 300 members. With more than 280, five others are closing in on 300. That’s about as big as an organization should be, said Jerry Brewer, associate vice president for student affairs.
When you get a chapter of that size, Brewer said, you wind up with pledge classes of 100 people or more.
“One of the reasons we push student life is to be able to offer students university life in a smaller setting,” he said. “We would like to get those numbers (of members) down.”
An ideal number, he said, is below 200, but in order to get the numbers down, students need additional sororities and fraternities to choose from. Attracting new sororities or fraternities is something the university doesn’t have a problem with.
As both Brewer and Keith Ellis, associate director of fraternity and sorority life said, two years ago, the university brought in a new sorority – Phi Mu – that overnight had close to 300 members. Another sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta, will be coming to USC this fall. That sorority, Ellis said, will begin looking for housing within the next couple of years.
“They all want a house,” Brewer said.
A house acts as the community center for the entire sorority or fraternity, he said. A house allows sororities or fraternities to compete for members.
That demand could lead to a new Greek Village across Blossom Street or an addition to the current village behind the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center, at Assembly and Blossom streets.
The almost 13-acre village, started in 2001, has been a “win-win” for the university, Brewer said. The university provides the land and infrastructure while the national organization pays for the construction of the house.
“We can build houses in the Greek Village, from a per-bed analysis, considerably less, using a public/private partnership for funding,” he said.
Two of the three potential sites are adjacent to the village. One is a large parcel on the west side of the Greek Village in a woodsy area. The other is a smaller parcel behind the Strom Thurmond Wellness Center that’s currently being used as a parking lot. But both tracts have issues that make them less attractive, Walton said.
The woodsy site would place Greek housing across multiple railroad tracks while the parking lot offers only 2 acres of development and the university would lose a parking lot.
Crossing Blossom makes the most sense. The Blossom Street site,the most attractive option to date, also reflects the university’s overall vision to expand west to the river.
“The Innovista master plan (first developed in 2003) envisions a mix of residential and commercial development between Blossom and Pendleton all the way to the river,” Walton said. “The grassy lot on Greene Street fits into that.”
That property is on Devine Street, one block off Blossom, between Gadsden and railroad tracks – across Devine from the Thirsty Fellow pizzeria and pub and caddy-corner from the arena. That site is now used as intramural athletic fields.
The site is one of five 4-acre city blocks on that side of Blossom that the university either owns or is in control of, Walton said. The university owns two of the blocks, leases two from the city, and the university development foundation, which acquires real estate and other assets for the university, owns one – the athletic fields.
The university soon will begin studying exactly what is needed, Walton said. But he thinks only one of those blocks may actually be needed. Four to six houses could be built on a block, potentially enough beds for 152 to 228 students.
While Walton was reluctant to pin an estimated cost to the overall project saying any planned expansions continue to be “very preliminary,” he did say it could take about $1 million to complete any site work on the four-acre parcel.
“Some of the senior leaders are going to sit down and begin working this week on (an) ... implementation plan,” he said.
That plan will be presented to the university’s board of trustees sometime this year, Walton said.