Greek village another step closer

Josh Coffman

Bowling Green is halfway across the world from the ancient city of Athens, Greece, but Western may be closer than ever to getting a Greek village of its own.

The city and university have worked through the summer to create a new home for Western’s sororities and fraternities. And some Greeks are beginning to express interest in a move.

Initially proposed in Western’s 20-year master plan last school year, a group housing plan would relocate 11 fraternities to an 8.25 acre area between Kentucky and Center streets, from north of what is now the Kentucky Street lot to a half-block north of 13th Street.

City and university officials are currently working to acquire and finance the land.

The project is still in its early stages, but Gene Tice, vice president of Student Affairs and campus services, said this may be Western’s best shot to modernize the fraternity houses.

“I think this is much closer than we’ve ever been,” he said. “We’ve looked at other options, but they would just never work … This is our best and perhaps our last opportunity.”

The city of Bowling Green began taking steps to acquire the property for the village last week by hiring Will Linder & Associates, a Berea-based consulting firm, to determine whether the city can file Chapter 99 to acquire the land, said Alice Burks, assistant to the director of Housing and Community Development.

Chapter 99 would allow the city to declare eminent domain over the property if 25 percent of the dwellings are determined to be “slum and blight” – deteriorated buildings that are unsanitary or unsafe for the community.

Linder & Associates will spend the next few weeks talking to city and university officials, as well as residents in the affected neighborhood, as it prepares its report for the city.

In addition to hiring the consulting firm, the city is also taking steps to issue bonds that will cover the cost of the land, which Western will pay back over time. The City Commission is expected to issue a notice of intent at its meeting tonight to formally notify the public of its plans to issue about $2 million in bonds to pay for the land, Burks said.

Public hearings will likely be scheduled later this year for the public to express its concerns over the land use before a finalized plan goes before the planning commission, then the City Commission for final approval. Those involved say it will take at least a year to acquire the land and finalize the plan.

President Gary Ransdell said the city is interested in moving fraternity houses currently on College and State streets closer to the campus and revitalizing the downtown district.

Western will consider buying property from adjacent fraternities that move to the village in cases where the school can use the land, for example, to build or expand parking lots or for other structures, Ransdell said.

But he said his main concern is to improve the conditions of Western’s fraternity houses, some of which fall below fire code standards.

“We would be appalled if our residence halls ever got into the condition” of some of the fraternity houses, he said.

Western will pay for the land to be used for the village, and the city will provide the infrastructure, such as water and sewage, but the fraternities are responsible for funding the houses themselves, Tice said.

Kappa Sigma President Eric Hollingsworth, a Nashville senior, said his fraternity is already raising funds for a new house in the village, mostly through alumni.

Tice said the houses will cost between $500,000 and $1 million each. The current draft of the plan calls for the houses to resemble the buildings “at the top of the Hill,” but for no houses to look exactly alike.

The Kappa Sigmas are currently renting a house on the proposed village site but plan to move and rebuild in the village if the proposal goes through.

“I think it’s going to be great,” Hollingsworth said. “And not just for the Kappa Sigmas but for all of the fraternities … It will help the camaraderie.”

Charley Pride, coordinator of student organizations, said that most groups he’s talked to have shown interest in moving into the village. Sigma Chi fraternity has already purchased land in the proposed area and will likely build a house there even if the village proposal falls through, Pride said.

Ransdell said Western has waited too long to update fraternity housing conditions, and it should take advantage of the current plan, which the city-county planning board initiated.

“It’s an issue that’s been ignored for 38 to 40 years,” he said.”If we turn our backs on the city now, we’re turning our backs on the Greek organizations for good.”

Reach Josh Coffman at [email protected]