Students sound off on Master Plan

As phases of USC’s Master Plan approach finalization, many students remain concerned about how the proposed renovations to the University Village will address their retail needs without negatively impacting the surrounding community.

Students had the chance to voice their concerns Thursday night at the USC Master Plan Forum, hosted by the Undergraduate Student Government’s Community Affairs department. The forum featured a presentation from the university officials involved with the Master Plan, who answered students’ questions on issues related to the changes to University Village changes.

Kristina Raspe, associate senior vice president of real estate and asset management for USC, and Brian League, director of entitlements for Capital Construction Development, focused their presentation on District 3 of the Master Plan, which includes the University Village and the Cardinal Gardens and Century housing complexes.

“The students who are coming [to USC] want to engage in the campus on a 24-hour basis,” Raspe said. “District 3 provides us with our greatest opportunity to make this a residential university, to build high-quality, affordable housing for students. We own virtually all of it, so we can control what goes on there.”

The Master Plan calls for the construction of mixed-use buildings in the University Village, with retailers and restaurants on the ground floor and student housing on the upper floors. The project will provide an additional 5,200 beds for students. A fitness center, hotel, movie theater, bookstore and intramural fields will also appear in District 3.

This phase of the Master Plan is projected to reach completion in 2014, with construction anticipated to begin in 2012, League said.

About 50 students attended Thursday night’s forum, and many were interested in learning about the specific retailers that would come to the revamped University Village.

Although USC is still several years away from settling on contracts with specific retailers, officials plan to continue the relationship with many current University Village retailers and to consider students’ and community members’ needs when searching for new retailers, Raspe said.

“We have identified more than enough retailers that meet both needs. There are surprisingly a lot of crossovers,” she said. “At this point we’re not making any decisions. We’re testing the market. As we get closer to the time period when we can actually look at retailers, we will be looking for feedback from students and the community.”

Raspe added that Superior Grocers had decided not to temporarily relocate to University Gateway while the new University Village is being constructed, which could potentially leave Ralphs as the only nearby grocery store for students during that period.

Some students were concerned about the effects the changes would have on residents of the surrounding community, who have criticized USC as more and more students have begun to live in the area.

But Raspe said the plans for District 3 provide USC students with more university-operated housing options to prevent them from having to unnecessarily encroach on the surrounding neighborhood.

“I don’t believe that this project creates gentrification. Our goal is to make affordable housing for our students so we can increase the housing stock for the community at large,” she said.

Many students, like Veronica Gregg, a junior majoring in public policy, management and planning, said they found the information in the presentation valuable, but hoped they would have more chances to give suggestions and provide feedback regarding the Master Plan.

“This is really interesting to me because it’s a project where the university can get students involved,” Gregg said. “But because they’re not that far along, they can’t tell how involved we’ll be.”

Raspe said she and other Master Plan officials want to keep students informed, but because the approval process for the project is still taking place, updates come slowly.

“We’re happy to meet with the student groups as often as they want,” she said. “We need all the stakeholders’ feedback. We can come out monthly, but the problem is things don’t happen monthly.”

USG has hosted similar events in the past and held Thursday night’s forum to further increase student knowledge about and involvement in the Master Plan, according to Victoria Chernova, USG’s director of community affairs.

“We wanted to [hold this forum] to make sure there’s no speculation or rumors about what’s going on with the Master Plan and to give students a chance to get involved because there will be a time when student involvement is key to getting [the Master Plan] passed by the city,” Chernova said.

Although the forum’s attendance was not as high as USG would have liked, Chernova said she was glad the students who attended were genuinely interested, and she hopes the rest of the student community will become just as concerned about the Master Plan. More forums and discussions with student organizations are planned for the spring semester, she added.

“Because we’re going to be alumni of the university, its future is very important to us regardless of whether we’re going to be here,” Chernova said. “It is really early to give [Master Plan officials] our feedback, but we need to make people aware of the issue so that when that time comes, it’ll be easier to mobilize them.”