USC Housing buys 29th St. Café building

Already a popular destination for students looking for a bite to eat, the 29th Street Café building might also become a popular choice for students looking for university-owned housing.

Home sweet home · The residences in the 29th Street Café building will soon be owned by USC Housing. Though plans for the building are tentative, the acquisition will supply USC Housing with 10 additional beds. - Ben Rolnick | Daily Trojan

In late December, USC Housing completed the purchase of the building that includes the 29th Street Café — commonly known as the 2-9 — hoping to add about 10 more beds for students. USC Housing is currently working with contractors to determine exactly how the residential space will be used. It hopes to have students living on the second and third floors of the building, above the cafe, by Jan. 1, 2011.

USC Housing purchased the 5,688-square-foot Victorian home, which USC has named the Hoover Street Residence (HSR), from alumni Edward and Ann Dorr, who chose to sell the property for financial reasons. The Dorrs’ real estate company, North University Park Properties, rents about 20 buildings in the USC area.

The 2-9 itself is owned by Larry Odell, who bought the cafe from the Dorrs in 2008.

Odell said the decision to sell the building was surprising and rushed.

Ann Dorr contacted him and fellow tenant CDI Management, a property management company, in mid-November with interest in selling immediately, he said. At about the same time, Dorr contacted USC Auxiliary Services Associate Senior Vice President Dan Stimmler, who considers property sale offers before presenting proposals to the university president and cabinet for final approval.

Neither tenant had interest in purchasing the building, leaving USC Housing with the opportunity to buy the property and become the new landlord.

“The building presents some interesting challenges to convert as much as possible to student housing,” said Daniel Moran, associate director of North Campus Housing. “We want to explore improving as much as we can while being careful of dollars spent. We’ve got to work with the space provided and figure out how to best suit everyone, including the current tenants.”

Moran said the planning process should be finished by May 31, with the construction of three double-bedrooms and four singles slated to begin in June.

Besides Odell, a number of other tenants currently occupy the space.

Three students currently live on the third floor of the building; two of them will be released from their leases after they graduate this semester. Moran said the third student would be provided alternative housing in the fall and would move back to HSR next spring.

CDI occupies most of the third floor and part of the second floor, but its lease ends July 31.

Odell’s leases for a second-floor office and the first-floor space containing the 2-9 expire mid-2013, but he could choose two five-year options after that.

Despite daily offers from property sellers, USC Housing Director Keenan Cheung said HSR is USC’s first real estate purchase of the school year. One of the most important factors in choosing to purchase the building was that, unlike other properties, the HSR will not require much repair work.

Cheung said USC was primarily interested in the building because of its location, but he added that the prospect of eventually having a restaurant in the building was also enticing.

A USC Auxiliary Services survey issued Jan. 26 to students living in North University Park sought reviews of the 2-9. One question asks, “If you could make the 2-9 into any Mexican food restaurant you wanted, what would it be?”

Odell said he has no involvement with the survey and said he’s unclear about USC’s intentions regarding the 2-9 when his lease ends.

“I used to own a Mexican restaurant, and I thought about making the 2-9 a Mexican restaurant,” Odell said. “But I have no intention of messing with anything because we are doing a huge amount of food here.”

Cheung said there are no plans to change the 2-9, and the survey is aimed at learning about its food quality and selection.

“We are taking over a building with a food venue we don’t control and wanted to learn more about the experience from the student perspective,” he said.

Also unchanged is the inability to swipe USCards at the 2-9. Though Odell said revenues could increase more than $15,000 per month if he could accept USCard, Auxiliary Services only allows USC-owned restaurants to accept them.

Adriana Arango, a sophomore majoring in public relations, said she wouldn’t want to see the 2-9 changed and wouldn’t be opposed to living above the 2-9 if it were affordable.

“It would be strange to live on top of a food place because of the odors and the noise, but there’s demand,” she said.

Michael Sahm, a senior majoring in business administration, said he agreed.

“As long as it’s nice and affordable, I think people would be interested,” he said.

Although the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office valued HSR at $1.071 million in 2003, housing officials declined to comment on the purchase price.

Moran only said, “We got the building gift-wrapped and handed to us, and now we’re trying to make the most of it.”