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Cal Poly’s downtown SLO student housing intended for ‘best and brightest entrepreneurs’

Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Executive Director Tod Nelson, center, gives members of the community a tour of the new HotHouse space above Ross Dress for Less on Nov. 12. The space, part of which is still under construction, will give students and community members seeking to grow start-up companies space and guidance to develop their businesses.
Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Executive Director Tod Nelson, center, gives members of the community a tour of the new HotHouse space above Ross Dress for Less on Nov. 12. The space, part of which is still under construction, will give students and community members seeking to grow start-up companies space and guidance to develop their businesses. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Cal Poly students who could soon call a downtown historic building home must have at least a 2.5 GPA, be in good standing with the university’s code of conduct, and be involved in its entrepreneurship programs or other learn-by-doing projects on campus.

During a tour of SLO HotHouse’s new downtown space last week, Carole Schaffer, Cal Poly’s associate director of housing and director of residential life and education, shared criteria for students interested in living in one of 32 apartments in the Blackstone-Sauer buildings at the corner of Monterey and Chorro streets.

Those buildings are being remodeled as part of the Chinatown project near Mission Plaza, which is being developed by Copeland Properties. Cal Poly recently signed a five-year lease for 6,000 square feet of commercial and 12,600 square feet of residential space in those buildings to expand its entrepreneurship programs and provide housing downtown for “the best and brightest entrepreneurs on campus,” said Tod Nelson, executive director of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE).

The idea is to give students an opportunity to live and work with like-minded individuals in an environment that fosters innovation, according to the university. With expanded CIE and HotHouse programs, “Cal Poly is building an entrepreneurial ecosystem in San Luis Obispo County by providing a unique opportunity for students to own and operate a business locally,” a news release said.

Priority for the apartments will be given to students involved in CIE or HotHouse programs, students who lived in the iCommunity housing program at Poly Canyon Village last year or this year (currently sophomores or juniors), or students involved in other learn-by-doing projects on campus such as CubeSat or the QL+ Laboratory, Schaffer said. They will be for older students — juniors and seniors.

“Those are the students we want to draw from,” she said. “They’re inspired, focused and very goal-driven. We want to select the very innovative and motivated to come live with us downtown.”

Because the Blackstone-Sauer buildings are under construction, Nelson and Schaffer spoke Thursday to a group of more than 20 community members and San Luis Obispo city staff inside the HotHouse’s new 15,000-square-foot space on the 800 block of Higuera Street, above the Ross Dress for Less store. Cal Poly’s space should be ready by next summer.

Students are already hard at work in the new HotHouse location, though part of the space is still unfinished, with piles of insulation, plywood and construction debris on the floor and wires hanging from the ceiling.

Cal Poly’s CIE manages and supports a variety of programs, including the on-campus Hatchery, which guides students in the early stages of forming a company, as well as the SLO HotHouse Accelerator and Incubator programs. Having additional square footage in the Blackstone-Sauer buildings will allow the CIE to offer more room for collaboration and possibly a design lab and makerspace (areas where people can gather to invent and create), plus housing divided into 30 one-person units and two two-person units.

The cost to students will be slightly higher than on-campus housing, Nelson said, but lower than market rate for rents in the downtown area.

“We could run at a loss for the first couple of years,” he said, but a fundraising campaign is planned to offer scholarships so students can afford the opportunity to live downtown.

To be selected for an apartment, students must submit an application that includes an essay on their goals for living there, provide two letters of reference, and participate in an interview.

We will fill the apartments with self-identified entrepreneurs.

Tod Nelson, executive director of Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship

No parking will be available for the apartments, but Schaffer said she believes bicycles will be the preferred mode of transport for most students.

Christine Wallace, the city’s neighborhood outreach manager, asked whether Cal Poly had discussed incentives to discourage students from bringing vehicles.

“We’re losing a great deal of parking downtown in the next couple of years,” she said.

Nelson called the idea interesting but said it hadn’t yet been discussed.

“I don’t think anyone in the (HotHouse) Incubator is coming downtown in cars,” he added.

The alcohol policy for the new units would be similar to the policy at Poly Canyon Village on-campus, which allows individual alcoholic beverages in apartments where all residents are at least 21 years old and all agree that alcohol may be present, Schaffer said.

The university signed a five-year lease with an option for two five-year extensions for the Blackstone-Sauer space. Cal Poly will pay $216,000 per year for the office space and $412,000 a year for the residential element, Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier said in a previous interview.

In addition to the student housing, another five apartments are planned for the Chinatown project, said Mark Rawson, the Copeland Properties’ architect. The entire commercial and residential project along Monterey Street is about 69,667 square feet.

Developers in a specific downtown area can pay a fee in lieu of providing parking. Copeland Properties paid the city about $838,900 last fiscal year for 45 spaces at $18,641 per space, said Tim Bochum, the city’s deputy director of transportation. The parking in-lieu fee has since been raised to $19,020 per space.

Clothing retailer H&M is planning to open its first San Luis Obispo County location as a part of the project in 2016. Rawson declined to disclose other potential tenants, but said the retail portion is expected to open in November 2016.

Cynthia Lambert: 805-781-7929, @ClambertSLO

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