July 27, 2009

Weighing in on the Eddy Street Commons project: What we can expect and what I would do to make it great

Like most Notre Dame fans who enjoy traveling up to South Bend for games, I've been casually following the developments going on with the new Eddy Street Commons project across the street from the Notre Dame campus. While I am always startled by how much the campus changes every year with new development projects (I will admit to getting lost the first time I drove on the newly renovated Angela Boulevard), I definitely think this type of project is long overdue. ND sorely needs a little campus strip for students and visitors that is outside of the ND bubble. You see it in every other Midwestern college town, so there's no reason that concept couldn't work in South Bend if it's done right. Sounds like things are really starting to progress, and we may be seeing some restaurants opening up by the football season.

I think the Eddy Street Commons development has a chance to be an outstanding addition to the Notre Dame community, but I really hope that the right choices are made in terms of a hotel and retail options. For starters, I think it's a great idea to build a hotel in that area. The ND campus has been starving for an on-campus hotel to go along with the Morris Inn. Between the football season, graduation, reunions, and various weddings throughout the summer and fall, there is quite a bit of demand for a hotel on the ND campus. It also never hurts to add a little more competition in the hotel industry, especially when the other South Bend hotels are asking for three night minimums during the football season. Three nights! That's nuts.

I'm also glad that the hotel is not going to be built on the old Burke Memorial Golf Course (which was rumored for a number of years). Maybe the Burke isn't a championship links, but how can you not love that course?? It's the perfect nine hole campus course for a student or employee who just wants to get away from the grind for a couple hours and blow off some steam on the course. I don't know what it costs nowadays, but it used to be $5 and you could be standing on the first tee within about five minutes of walking out of your dorm room. Sure, it's an easy course, but I've never had a bad time out there. The views of the campus and the Dome are worth it alone. More importantly, the Burke has become a part of the fabric of the ND campus. It's the first thing you see when you approach the ND campus from US-31, and it's a great green space for the campus. I was never a fan of the idea of bulldozing the Burke for an on-campus hotel, so I'm really pleased that the Eddy Street Commons provides a suitable spot for the hotel.

I'm also curious to see what type of food and beverage options open up in this development. They've already announced that Kildare's Irish Pub and Doc Magrograns Oyster House will be two tenants, and I think both are pretty good choices. They'll be good for students, good for alums, and good for faculty types. If you want to get a bite to eat after a football or basketball game where you can sit at a real table and order beer out of a glass and not a plastic cup, where else are you going in South Bend?? Legends?? Fiddler's Hearth?? Not a ton of options. There's definitely a need for a couple more good casual restaurants near the campus area.

So where do they go from here in terms of finding restaurants to fill out the slate?? My suggestion would be to try to find someone to open up a really good sports bar and grill. Here in Columbus, there is a similar retail/housing development on the Ohio State campus that was built about five years ago, and one of the anchor tenants is a restaurant called Eddie George's Grille 27. It's a phenomenal sports bar with good food and a good atmosphere and also plenty of tvs and sound systems to enjoy the action. It's such a simple concept. Create a "nice" sports bar and attach a famous athlete's name to give it a little extra name recognition. It's a place that appeals to students but also is attractive for twenty and thirtysomething types who might want to get some decent food. Every time I'm there, it is packed with people of all ages.

I think this "Famous Athlete's Grille __" concept is a chain because Pittsburgh has a Jerome Bettis Grille 36 as well. It's literally the exact same restaurant as Eddie George's place, and it's right near Heinz Field.

Anyway, if I was the developer of Eddy Street Commons, I would be looking to open up some sort of ND-related "Grille ___" with this same chain company. Think about how many famous ND athletes you could use to do something like that. Heck, Jerome Bettis could open up a second location at Eddy Street Commons. Or Rocket Ismail or Tim Brown or Brady Quinn or even Rudy Ruettiger. You could even get me excited about Sean Milligan's Grille 65!!

How cool would a Rocket Ismail's Grille 25 be at the Eddy Street Commons?? I would go there every time I went to South Bend. The Rocket could host some events there, and maybe store some of his great sports memorabilia in the restaurant. There are a lot of ND-themed places in South Bend, but no real place that pays homage to any particular ND athlete. If they did it right and had good food and a good bar, it would be a fun place to go and a cash machine all within walking distance of the ND campus.

I know what you're thinking at this point. But Doug, South Bend already has the greatest sports bar in the world.....Between the Buns! I know, I know, the Buns is great, and I've ordered just about everything on their menu in the last 10 years. Heck, my wife and I went on our first date at the Buns! It's my favorite bar in South Bend, and no trip to South Bend is complete with a couple 32oz. drafts at the Buns. You won't hear a bad word about the Buns from this guy.

But here's an idea. Why not have two great sports bars in the Bend?? Crazy idea, right?? The ND community is a huge sports community, and I think there's plenty of room for a second really good sports bar in South Bend. The Buns can appeal to a little more of the college crowd, and the Grille ___ concept could be a better fit for gameday weekends and students who just want to walk from their dorm to a place to watch Sunday NFL games or get a bite to eat when they're sick of the dorm food. It might also be a fun place to go if you're a grad student or a professor or a professional working in South Bend.

I think that would be a phenomenal addition to the Eddy Street Commons. Get a big name former ND athlete on board and start building it. Heck, if they're looking for investors, I'm in. The place would do really well in that spot, and it would instantly be one of the top attractions for a football weekend. If you didn't have tickets to a big game, you could probably have a great time over at Brady Quinn's Grille 10 watching the game. Certainly a better time than you would have at Legends.

The question is whether ND would allow this to happen. My guess would be no since it would be a direct competitor to Legends and also a potential nuisance for some of the collars over there at the Dome, but that's where I think a famous athlete could help to grease the wheels a little bit. Who is going to turn down Rocket Ismail if he goes to Father Jenkins or Father Poorman and says he wants to put in a Rocket Ismail's Grille 25 at the Eddy Street Commons?? That would be borderline sacrilegious to turn him down after all he's done for the school.

After that, do whatever you want to fill out the development. Put in a couple shops, a bookstore, a Chipotle, a pizza place, and a Potbellys or some other sandwich place. But you gotta get one big anchor tenant, and I think the sports bar idea would be a great one. ND only has one shot to make this thing work ,and it would be a huge bummer if it turned out to be some watered down version of Lafortune and a virtual ghost town on gameday weekends. The Eddy Street Commons has potential to be a great addition to the ND community. I'm looking forward to checking it out when it's done.


Jeremy said...

Rocket Ismail's Grille 25 would probably be better. I suppose you could do an Anthony Johnson's Grille 22, or even an Ambrose Wooden's Grille 22.

Doug said...

Indeed. Good call. I'm firing my editor. Don't know why I got 22 in my head.

Adjust your programs accordingly.

Anonymous said...

Just got back from Pittsburgh, and my family ate at Bettis' Grille 36. It's an awesome restaurant with memorabilia from his ND and Steelers' days. The food was great, and the atmosphere was as well. This type of restaurant would do so well at ND. Great idea!!!

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Anonymous said...

As a fellow observer of the Eddy Street Commons development, I am also pleased to watch the completion of such a much needed "stimulus" for the ND/South Bend area. Eddy Street Commons an example of what is called a new form of urbanism: living space tied into commerical and green spaces. I wish ESC sought LEED certification, though. ND would then top the charts of sustainability standards!!! Ivy Quad, a new development off Twyckenham St. (www.ivyquad.com) a nearby housing development, IS seeking LEED certification. Set in a great location close to campus, residents enjoy elegant homes that surpass EnergyStar standards on all levels.

So after a game, run home, start the grill, and enjoy a meal while other fans are stuck in post-game traffic.