Cal Poly's big plans for the future: housing, hotel, pub and more

An entrance to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.
An entrance to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo.

Cal Poly’s plan for the next 20 years calls for an ambitious rethinking of the campus that would expand north to create a new hub of student life, reroute cars out of the core and add thousands of new living units for students, faculty and staff.

In addition, the university wants to add a hotel and conference center, create space for Greek houses and clubs, and explore the idea of year-round instruction by expanding summer classes.

The university released the first look at its updated Master Plan on Friday, offering a glimpse at a future that proposes a variety of new uses aimed at making the most of campus property. All of the options and potential ideas for development are conceptual at this point.

“We want to educate more students and create a vibrant core for student services and activities,” said Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong. “We’re striving to have more people living, learning, and working on campus. And we’re looking to redirect the vehicle flow, making the center a corridor for bicycles and pedestrians.”

Although it’s far too preliminary to estimate a cost for the build-out of the Master Plan, it would easily be more than $1 billion, according to Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong. By comparison, the university spent $1 billion on new construction over the past 13 years. Cal Poly is looking at private-public partnerships to help finance, operate and expedite the construction.

After gathering public input, Cal Poly hopes to finalize its Master Plan by September or October and seek approval from the California State University Board of Trustees in the 2015-16 academic year.

On-campus housing

Preliminary maps show several possible locations for new housing, including six key areas around the eastern and northern perimeters of the existing campus infrastructure.

Armstrong said providing more housing for students, and affordable housing for faculty and staff on campus, is a priority, noting that some can’t afford to buy homes in San Luis Obispo County.

“Housing, housing, housing,” Armstrong said, identifying the most important goal of future growth. “That’s a huge priority.”

About 38 percent of Cal Poly students live on campus (all freshmen and 60 percent of sophomores), and the goal is to increase that to 65 percent, Armstrong said. That would include all sophomores plus 30 percent of upperclassmen.

A key theme in the housing plans is to keep freshmen together, and new housing could go in east of existing dormitory halls in the southeastern corner of campus, north of Sierra Madre hall.

The proposal also calls for specialty housing for groups and clubs including the Greek system, with one vision placing that complex northeast of Highland Drive and California Boulevard.

Another key objective is to offer affordable on-campus housing for faculty and staff. Some of the proposed areas for such housing are toward the southern end of campus, including where open space now exists at the entrance of campus east of Grand Avenue, as well as a potential site closer to Spanos Stadium and California Boulevard.

In order to accommodate building needs, the university envisions reducing surface parking and one-story buildings that aren’t making efficient use of space. Only 18 percent of freshmen have cars, contributing to some relatively empty parking areas on campus.

“It’s not just about adding onto the campus, it’s about making the best use of the space available in the best possible way,” said Erik Justesen, chief executive officer of RRM Design Group, a consultant on the Master Plan project.

Campus life

In keeping with its theme of creating a vibrant campus and residential community, several components of the Master Plan call for entertainment, activity and commercial hubs — to go along with learning facilities.

Those include a pub where those 21 and over would be allowed to drink — which would be the first of its kind at Cal Poly.

An expansion to the University Union could incorporate a movie theater, which also would serve an educational purpose for projecting instructional videos and presentations.

The expanded second core of campus envisions a host of venues that could enhance campus life, including another recreation center, as well as new recreational fields.

The “Creekside Village” where the pub is envisioned, proposed near the center-north area of campus along Brizzolara Creek, could include mixed-use development that would serve students and others on campus — possibly including a grocery and restaurants.

“One of the key themes of our plan is to enhance student success,” Armstrong said. “Studies have shown that keeping students on campus contributes to their academic success and increases their chance of graduating.”

The idea of a year-round instructional model that would expand summer school is intended to graduate more students and reduce the number of people on campus at a given time.

The university is exploring the year-round option, which will depend on state funding, said Kathleen Enz-Finken, the university’s provost.

New event centers and a winery

As part of an idea to grow the university’s hospitality and tourism program, Armstrong said he’s “very bullish” about the pursuit of a new hotel and conference center on campus.

Cal Poly has conducted a feasibility study, and officials have consulted with a representative of Cornell University in New York, where a campus hotel exists. They’re continuing to explore the idea of a public-private partnership.

The Master Plan draft visuals include a possibility of replacing the existing Mott Athletic Center with a hotel and conference center.

Another idea places a hotel and conference center near Creekside Village in the northern part of campus.

Depending on where the hotel/conference center goes, it would create different synergies, Armstrong said.

Other plans call for building a new arena to replace the aging Mott Athletic Center, possibly in the new northern hub.

No specific sites have been selected.

Officials are considering eight to nine possible locations for the hotel/conference center and arena.

As part of a $20 million gift from Peter and Mary Beth Oppenheimer to the university, Cal Poly expects to build an agricultural events center and equestrian pavilion just north of Village Drive.

The center would include a 70,000-square-foot indoor events center, seating more than 2,500 guests, with a floor that converts to conference space, according to a November Cal Poly press release.

The donation also funds a new farm store, envisioned for a prominent corner entering the campus on Highland Drive.

The Oppenheimer-funded agricultural facilities are already in the early planning stages and are expected to be built sooner than many of the other projects.

“We know where those facilities are going, and we’re locked in,” Armstrong said.

A winery, with an instructional focus, also is envisioned for a section of campus off Mount Bishop Road near the campus’ Technology Park.

Traffic and transportation

A mission of the plan is to create a pedestrian-oriented campus core, with possibilities for re-routing some of the roads, such as North Perimeter Road.

The university already has blocked off Mustang Way from through traffic, creating a wider pathway for those on foot coming to and from the University Union and the Performing Arts Center.

The transit system would be circulated with key stops in campus zones, but vehicle traffic would be pushed to the perimeter.

The priorities for campus circulation encourage pedestrians foremost, followed by bicyclists, transit and intra-campus shuttles, and then cars.

“The use of cars should be reduced through policies, incentives, new technologies, educational programs, and the provision of alternative options,” Cal Poly officials noted among key themes for the Master Plan.

Impact on agriculture

With significant expansion and infill of development, Cal Poly officials say they’re aware of a need to consider agricultural lands and natural habitat.

“Cal Poly’s open lands are highly valued, and the scenic setting should be preserved,” they wrote in their key themes.

Armstrong said he’s aware that possible new housing in an open area with trees in the southeast corner of the campus, just east of Grand Avenue near the planned new dormitory project, would face some community opposition.

That space is being considered for faculty and staff housing in some versions of the Master Plan update.

Other possibilities for potential construction on existing ag space include the western portion of the campus near Highway 1, including the lemon grove.

Those areas around Highland Drive could serve multiple purposes — including for residential use, as an alternative location for a hotel and events center, or remaining agricultural.

Armstrong said that the university would have to assess the value of the options before deciding how to proceed, including considering the educational value of the existing ag land.

Among its guiding principles, Cal Poly wrote that its “open lands are highly valued, and the scenic setting should be preserved.”

And while general ideas have been considered, construction also will depend on effective planning and financing of the various options.

“Nearly all of the projects we envisioned with our Master Plan in 2001 were completed,” said Julie H. Moloney, Cal Poly’s campus planner. “But we were fortunate in that funding came through, and we were able to see our planning processes through. But there are many factors and considerations that go into this.”

Reaction from neighborhood group

Linda White, chair of the

Alliance of SLO Neighborhoods

, had a mixed reaction Friday to the concepts, supporting some ideas and opposing others.

White said she would like to see students housed on campus, but more faculty, staff and graduate students living in the neighborhoods — which she believes would free up the neighborhood for more affordable workforce housing as opposed to student-occupied homes that drive up prices.

White said she opposed the hotel and conference center, saying it will take away from the existing local hotel industry, where students already might work or intern to learn the hospitality trade.

White said she “loves the idea of Greek houses on campus” and new activity hubs, including a pub and movie theater on campus, to provide gathering spots for students away from off-campus homes where parties frequently occur.

She opposes the idea of year-round school, however, saying the summer offers the city a period of tranquility for permanent local residents.

Finally, she supports the idea of public-private partnerships, saying she’d favor “three housing projects at the same time.”

“I’d like to see Cal Poly cap enrollment until it has adequate housing for students,” White said.

A look at the land-use concepts

Here are conceptual diagrams that show how Cal Poly's campus could expand in the next 20 years.

Cal Poly Master Plan concepts