Guided by the goals set in “Destination 2040: Our Flight Path,” the Ball State University Board of Trustees and President Geoffrey S. Mearns are said, in a March 2022 press release, to finalize plans to revitalize the Village by the end of 2022 and seemingly ushering in a new generation of change to W. University Avenue.
To bring in more crowds and to retain those who already work in Muncie, Ball State is planning to utilize five separate lots to build a new performance hall, hotel, restaurants, shops, office space and apartments in the Village, according to a press release in March 2022. This is an effort to bring numbers to the declining Village scene and to bolster the relationship between the university and outside communities.
“We know that when we speak to prospective students or survey prospective students, there are many reasons why they would consider coming to Ball State,” Mearns said. “One of the headwinds that we face is the perception that Muncie is not a great place if you're not on campus. So, we have a self-interest in making it an attractive commercial district to help us attract students, faculty [and] staff, we know the same as for the [IU Health Ball Memorial] Hospital as well.”
Mearns expressed confidence in the resources and assets on campus, such as Sursa Hall, Emens Auditorium, the David Owsley Museum of Art and the under-construction Brown Family Outdoor Amphitheater, to cultivate potential crowds to the community.
The third goal of “Destination 2040: Our Flight Path”— Community Engagement and Impact — is the driving motive behind the recent developments. The strategic plan was aided in its creation by Mearns soon after he became president.
“[Ball State's involvement in the community] was a huge part of [Mearns'] vision and was a big part of the trustees' vision because understanding if you don't work together that way, neither one of you is as strong as you can be,” Renae Conley, chair of the Ball State Board of Trustees, said. “If you look at any community, there's basic things that the community needs to have to survive and thrive, and it's good housing, good schools, jobs, and if you don't have those, people are not attracted to come and stay.”
The recent plans to utilize Ball State’s resources to help the Village community is not the first time the university has planned to expand into the area. Initially planned for completion in June 2014, McKinley Commons was to be built on the same intersection of McKinley and University Avenue as the current plans for the upcoming performance hall, but failed negotiations to secure the land led to its cancellation.
However, many of the services McKinley Commons was set to provide — some student housing with over 100 guest rooms to dually function as a hotel for guests and a hospitality lab for students — have some similarities with the current plans, albeit on a much grander scale and missing the student housing/curriculum application.
“The property that we've acquired [in the Village] has taken years, probably at least 10, maybe more years to acquire,” Mearns said. “So, this has been a work in progress.”
Under each goal in Destination 2040: Our Flight Path, there are a handful of points that provide further explanations of steps the university hopes to achieve as a key part to the overarching goal. In the third goal, the Village was mentioned by name.
“The Village can be an anchor and really change the face of Muncie and the Ball State area,” Conley said. “Having a vibrant area around the university is really important in terms of students having cool things to do. It's really a positive outcome for everyone if we're able to see this vision come to fruition.”
Historically, the Village has been no stranger to economic ups and downs. Since its introduction, countless businesses have come and gone through the area.
The Village Promenade, built in 2010, has been on the controversial side of recent Village developments, evident by its seemingly clashing architecture.
According to the render attached to the March 2022 press release, W. University Avenue is set to have a much more dramatic physical change, similar to the Promenade than seen previously.
Krysta Nickols, general manager of Brothers-Muncie location, felt positive about the future business opportunities the new developments could bring to her business.
“I'm excited for what's about to happen because when I first came to Ball State, a lot has changed,” Nickols said.
With Brothers’ key demographic being college students, Nickols brainstormed ideas to incorporate future performance hall programs, as some of her staff are current students who are majoring in theatre.
“[Students] try to have a job to make good money but also is somewhat near their career path,” Nickols said. “If you’re a theatre person, like wouldn’t it be smart to work at the theatre [and] get paid for all that stuff? And even, I know they have internships and stuff, so that’d be great.”
Nickols felt adding a new range of jobs, like the hotel or new restaurants, for students right off campus would be beneficial to Cardinals’ schedules. She felt Ball State was making the right steps toward growing the current and future student engagement with the community to prevent further decreasing numbers.
“So, whether you're just a college student [or] someone that's going to see the show, we want people to come in here, so I think it would be a good impact on us,” Nickols said.