On March 12, President DeCoudreaux sent an email to Mills students announcing a potential plan to lease a section of underutilized land on Mills campus for commercial development.
According to the email, the land being considered for development is a five-acre section near Seminary Avenue exit off of Highway 580 and Highway 13. The college was approached by a developer who identified this area of land, which, according to President DeCoudreaux’s email, is “underutilized,” and proposed the idea of commercial development, including retail, office space and housing.
Prior to the college being approached by this developer, the Board of Trustees formed the Real Estate Advisory Committee (REAC) in 2012, which was made up of trustees and experts from the Bay Area. The REAC did about six months of research regarding land for possible development. The college then formed the Real Estate Development Task Force (REDTF), which is a smaller group made up of both current and former trustees and one outside real estate expert.
According to Renee Jadushlever, chief of staff and vice president for operations, the REDTF is still doing research on the proposed project and has not yet reached a decision on whether to move forward with it.
“At the moment, we’re only investigating the feasibility of the project,” Jadushlever said. “We’re not committing to the project or saying that we’re actually doing it. We’re just talking to the developer about what ideas could be possible.”
First-year Kate Kolden did not initially like the idea but felt differently upon finding out that the five-acre section is currently only used for maintenance and is considered underutilized.
“I’d like to see a twenty-four hour food place,” Kolden suggested.
Cheryl Reid-Simons, a 1987 alum, had some questions and reservations about the proposed land development, but thinks that it has the potential to be beneficial.
“Questions aside, I’m encouraged to see the college investigating new and creative revenue streams,” Reid-Simons said in an email. “While I am naturally cautious about the idea of ‘selling off’ the campus bit by bit, I think that judicious repurposing of real estate is both reasonable and, if done correctly, beneficial to the student body by giving them more options for shopping, living and dining.”
Some students have raised concerns about the possible impacts that this project would have on the quiet atmosphere of Mills, while others have expressed a desire to have more shopping opportunities and housing options near campus. Jadushlever does not believe that the project would alter the quiet and secluded climate at Mills, stating that the commercially developed area would be set off from the Mills campus by some sort of fence or landscaping.
First-year Lila Dunlap had a mixed reaction to the proposed land development.
“The idealist idea is that [the land] would be put to good use and be something that students use, but that might not happen at all,” Dunlap said. “It’s a good idea to use underutilized land, but we must be careful. I don’t know how realistic it really is.”
Like Kolden, Dunlap also stated that she would like to see a twenty-four hour food place, such as a cafe.
Lisa Kremer, an alum who graduated in 1990, was happy to see the college exploring new ideas but has some reservations about the project.
“My main concern is that this could be a very long-term lease that effectively shrinks the size of campus,” Kremer wrote in an email. “Mills has held onto its property for so many decades that I hate to think of the college losing land, even though it’s in a far-flung corner. I wish that corner could be used for a new Mills department, like a law school, or a private high school academy.”
According to both President DeCoudreaux’s email and Jadushlever, the project would meet several goals outlined in the 2013-2018 Strategic Plan, including looking at underutilized land on campus and creating a more vibrant campus by providing more opportunities for students nearby. Leasing the land would provide revenue which would then be included in the college’s overall budget, according to Jadushlever.
She also stated that this will serve as a way to reach out to the community around Mills, and may serve as a source of possible jobs and internships for students.
“One of the other things we want to do is develop partnerships in the neighborhood — strategic partnerships — and really be a good neighbor,” Jadushlever said.
There will be several different ways for students and community members to provide input and get involved in the project. According to Jadushlever, a meeting will be held sometime after Spring Break to discuss the project in general terms, as well as to discuss things that students would like to see. There is also the possibility of having a website where students and community members can check the progress of the project and leave comments, though this would likely not happen for a year or two.
“We look forward to engaging with the Mills campus community [and] to hearing how they might envision a project,” Jadushlever said.
The Campanil will provide more updates as the project progresses.