Over the next century, thousands of future University of Utah students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be housed comfortably on campus and kept well-nurtured as they learn, thanks to a special land deal expected to generate $1 billion in student aid.
Ivory University House is where they’ll live, a 552-unit community with green spaces spread over four buildings on the southwest corner of South Campus Drive and Mario Capecchi Drive, a lively intersection on a car-centric campus as desperate as the rest of Salt Lake City for new housing.
An aging Latter-day Saint chapel has been demolished and scrapped from the site, which was filled Friday with enthusiastic people, building materials and red and white balloons draped over digging equipment ready for a groundbreaking.
The project at about 1780 E. South Campus Drive will span 5.6 acres of the roughly 31 acres owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s being billed as a gift that will keep on giving, courtesy of an innovative collaboration among the U., the church and the Clark and Christine Ivory Trust.
Big wheels have been turning toward the latest U. student housing development for almost 10 years, and, by 2023, the first building will be up for a one-of-a-kind perpetually funded living complex at Utah’s flagship university.
Designed as luxury digs by most standards, with well-appointed features, shared spaces, courtyards, an attention to safety and wellness and loads of student support, the apartments are also being developed so their proceeds can be donated to generate financial support for many of the students who live in them.
“This is going to be cool, a great place for people to live,” said Clark Ivory, a U. alum and former board trustee, but the upscale studio dwellings would “not be full of a bunch of affluent kids.
“It is our goal,” he said, “to make sure that at least 25% of the students at Ivory University House will come from the most financially challenged families.” Those kids will also get housing assistance to help them live there, the U. confirmed.
“We can’t wait to see them flourish,” said Ivory, who also heads Ivory Homes, Utah’s largest homebuilder. He added that with housing “a critical need during the pandemic,” the family’s charitable foundation “is now prioritizing student housing.”
Keeping students on campus — with more housing
But, as a clearly delighted U. President Taylor Randall quipped to a crowd of church leaders, real estate executives, U. administrators and elected officials gathered at Friday’s event to celebrate, “Wait! That’s not all!”
He called Ivory University House “truly innovative” and “more than just a housing project” — while Randall said he worried daily about students on a housing waiting list 3,400 names long, with roughly 4,400 units now on campus and 1,682 to be built by 2024.
The partnerships behind Ivory University House are aimed directly at helping easing that crunch, Randall said, as the U. tries to evolve away from being “a commuter campus” and toward a new, more residential model referred to loosely as “University Town.”
Students who commit to living on campus do 10% better in getting their degrees, the U. president added — “trust me on this” — and said the 552 new rooms at Ivory University House were an important step toward making that longer-term change.
Key players behind the new housing project toured the country in recent years in search of the right financing model to make it happen and be perpetual, which Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall described as one of its most striking features, along with creating a pipeline of inspired future thinkers and leaders.
“Think about what perpetual and catalytic projects they will create in Utah and all across the world,” the mayor said. “This is more than affordable housing, so much more.”
LDS Church’s role in the project
All but a few children among of the 150 or so people who attended the event on Friday are likely to be outlived by the project’s approach to financing and the philanthropy behind it.
The LDS Church is essentially donating the former chapel site for 99 years, under what’s called a ground lease, on a parcel Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé noted was “so strategic for the campus.”
As the idea emerged, the church land allowed it to play a key role in “a vision that is going to bless so many lives,” Caussé said, with a high-quality, spiritually inspiring and safe environment, “and also a place where people will find a motivating setting that will help them to pursue their studies.”
Portraying the residential environment as a kind of elevated life, Caussé said church President Russell Nelson, also a U. alum, and other Latter-day Saint leaders were “enthusiastic about it” and found the project inspirational.
“There’s full support there,” said Caussé, who oversees the faith’s vast financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations.
The Ivory Trust is donating $24 million toward a kind of annuity buttressing the long-term transaction — plus $6 million in seed funding for programs aimed at helping students living in the apartments succeed in school — and that, of course, is where the U. also comes in, with what will be called “Complete U.”
That’s a related plan being kick-started by the Ivory donations and forged by the U. to keep more students on campus and in classes year-round.
Overall, the deal underlying Ivory University House will provide money to help up to 50,000 students over the years with housing and nearly double that number will benefit from the resulting scholarships, housing stipends and internships. By 2025, it will generate at least $1 million yearly in student support, eventually amounting to $1 billion over its life.
Though run under the same general rules as other U. residential halls, the housing units will be different in other other ways.
Restrictions on smoking, drug use and overnight guests will be in place, similar to other dorms, but the property also will be privately owned by Ivory University House and operated by a property manager. Students eligible to live in the studio apartments will sign yearlong leases. Three-quarters of them will pay market-rate rents, while the other quarter will receive housing stipends and other aid.
The new housing also will be closely tied to new initiatives to help students, both financially and with a healthy living setting shaped to help them succeed in a holistic way. The approach goes well beyond “being solely focused on achievement and money and those kinds of things,” said Christine Ivory, Clark Ivory’s wife and partner in running the family trust.
She called it “a place where the spiritual life is respected, the academic pursuit is supported, the psychological needs are addressed, and the physical discipline is expected.”
Apartments will have private baths, kitchenettes, large windows, wooden floors and study areas, she said. Each building also will have gathering spaces, a wellness center and activities such as meditation, yoga, art studios, a video arcade, TV, kitchen and community rooms and more.
“These are incredible amenities,” Christine Ivory said, “I would be very happy to move in.”