Student Housing Could Come to Downtown

One real estate CEO dreams of connecting UNLV to one of the Valley's most buzzworthy neighborhoods

A rendering of one of the off-campus student housing projects

A rendering of one of the off-campus student housing projects

John Tippins leans forward in his desk chair with a pensive expression eclipsing his features. The CEO and founder of Northcap real estate is imagining the future of two districts partitioned by a feeble four-mile gap. The vision’s the same every time. Maryland Parkway becomes the proverbial pipeline connecting Downtown to UNLV. Student housing ekes out to Fremont and beyond. Las Vegas becomes the great city that supports a great college.

These possibilities are the basis behind Tippins’ recent collaborations with UNLV to bring more off-campus housing options to Downtown, a plan that could provide relief from the university’s expensive on-campus options.

Tippins, who is also a UNLV alum, acknowledges this marriage isn’t anything new—he’s not reinventing the wheel, this is a natural move for a city with booming potential.

“If you compare us to Austin, a very smart, young, hip, tech city with a great university, we’re no different,” he says. “We’re the same exact thing.”

“This is connecting a smart city with a smart university, and doing it through transportation, through residential and through retail experiences.”

Expensive housing can act as a barrier for students who are on a budget but still want to socialize with fellow students. This factor alone barred broadcast journalism major Joaquin Lomeli Jr., who says he’s barely scraping up enough money for his first tuition, from living in the dorms.

Drew Brunson, Northcap’s director of residential rating services, surveyed over 200 UNLV students. When asked if they would be interested in living with other students, 129 out of 179 answered yes.

Even Tippins admits he made a misstep when he attended UNLV by not living around other students. “I was around people that I would’ve never wanted to necessarily be around during my college experience,” he says.

Tippins says one Downtown property is already in the works with student tenants in mind, although the company did not want to release the location until the deal was final. Downtown rent could start in the $700 range and up—much better than the $3700 cap you could wind up spending at UNLV for a 10-foot-wide bedroom. Throw in a roommate to split the bill and it’d lighten the load even more compared to on-campus living.

Tippins and UNLV are working on a rating system that would judge residential properties around campus and Downtown based on whether they meet certain living requirements­—including amenities such as Wi-Fi and security. Properties that fail to meet the requirements will be encouraged to improve before they can be verified among UNLV’s off-campus housing list.

The rating system would be imperative for those not familiar with Las Vegas, such as international students. During Brunson’s survey research, one student from the Netherlands described a hellish housing experience in which she assumed everything around UNLV was student housing. This leashed her into a contract with an apartment in a sketchy neighborhood where shopping carts floated in the pool and break-ins became a staple event.

This kind of experience is what Lomeli Jr. fears Downtown will mimic. He says the roaming homeless and late night partiers could put students at risk.

UNLV on-campus housing

UNLV on-campus housing

But in spite of Downtown’s sketchy past, Tippins says anyone trying to inflict harm on another person now would be foolish. The area’s booming redevelopment combined with the presence of Downtown Rangers—unarmed peacekeepers who frequent the area—and the dedicated security of hotels such as the El Cortez have helped to dispel the idea that Downtown is unsafe.

One of the most important facets of the plan is that designated student housing in an urban atmosphere would allow students to mingle with each other while still making professional contacts. That would be especially great for those in culinary or technology tracks since the dining and startup scenes are taking off. Places like Makers & Finders, Container Park and The Beat Coffeehouse are what Tippins wished he had access to in college.

“People always say there’s no great city without a great university,” Tippins says. “This is connecting a smart city with a smart university, and doing it through transportation, through residential and through retail experiences.”

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