At 50, once ‘luxurious’ Naismith Hall is turning its sales pitch to affordability
504-bed facility is only privately owned residence hall in Lawrence
When it opened in 1966, Naismith Hall was billed as “luxurious living.” And it had a pricetag to match.
“The unique design of this building will allow a maximum of study, living and recreational space — all with the greatest amount of individual privacy,” a 1965 Lawrence Daily Journal-World advertisement said. A room plus three meals per day cost $547.50 a semester, almost $200 more than a University of Kansas residence hall at the time, according to a 1966 article.
The adjacent on-campus housing scene has changed a lot since then.
Naismith, a 504-bed, 10-story tower located just off campus at 1800 Naismith Drive, is the only privately owned and operated residence hall in town. The building’s new ownership says it plans to stick around, though they’re taking a decidedly different marketing approach than the hall’s earlier decades.
While KU Student Housing prices continue to increase year after year, Naismith is actually cutting its rates roughly 15 percent and next year will offer rooms cheaper than any KU residence hall.
Reality: While it still has certain luxury perks — including housekeeping service and a pool — Naismith is now a 50-year-old residence hall. The once “luxurious” living quarters are now less spacious and less private by comparison than KU Student Housing’s new dorms and many of its renovated older dorms.
Gesturing uphill to KU’s one-year-old Oswald and Self halls, Naismith general manager Brian Haney says, “I cannot compete with them … but I’m $3,500 a year less than what they are.”
For 2017-2018, the starting rate to live in Naismith, including two meals a day, will be $7,940 for the year.
KU’s cheapest residence hall rate, including a comparable dining plan, will be $8,766, according to KU Student Housing’s 2017-18 rate chart. That’s for a double room in Oliver Hall, with a community bathroom down the hall.
KU’s next cheapest rate is $10,060, for the least expensive rooms in GSP, Hashinger and Ellsworth halls. Rooms in Oswald and Self are $11,668 and higher.
For students looking for the community of dorm living, Haney said Naismith’s goal is to give students a good alternative to KU housing at a good price.
“We are a for-profit business, so we have to try to get that bottom line,” he said.
The business Haney works for is New York City-based Bromley Companies, a family owned real estate company with office, residential, retail and industrial properties in multiple states.
Bromley closed on Naismith Hall at the end of 2012, Haney said.
“It is an attractive, well-located building that has housed over 20,000 University of Kansas students over the years, and we plan to make a significant capital investment to transform the common areas and student rooms into exciting, fun, modern spaces for future generations of KU students,” the company said in a press release at the time.
Naismith has completed a roughly $750,000 renovation to the lobby and main level, Haney said. The company is in the process of updating rooms with new finishings — including fresh paint and granite countertops around sinks — and this summer will begin updating bathrooms, as well.
He said when Bromley took over, Naismith’s occupancy was only about 50 percent. Now it’s about 75 percent.
Naismith’s room configuration is original to the building, and the same throughout the facility: Two cozy double rooms, each with its own sink, are joined by a small bathroom shared by the four occupants.
For a higher price, students who don’t want a roommate can rent the room as a single instead, still with the shared bath.
Each residential floor has a central lounge, though the lounges are smaller and less open than the common areas in most KU dorms.
Naismith bills itself as “all-inclusive,” said marketing director Marlo Johnson.
In addition to the dining hall, there’s an outdoor swimming pool, a gym with free fitness classes, a small computer lab with free printing and a community kitchen stocked with appliances and dinnerware, she said.
And, of course, the housekeeping. Johnson said housekeepers take out trash, clean sinks and bathrooms and vacuum each room once a week.
Like KU dorms, Naismith has most of the same rules, Johnson said.
No alcohol, no smoking, residents must be full-time KU students, residents must swipe an id card to get up the elevators, and outside doors lock at 10:30 p.m., after which residents and guests must check in with security to enter. There are resident assistants on each floor. Naismith closes for breaks, though residents who need to — mainly international students — can stay.
Just like any KU student, regardless of where they live, Naismith residents must abide by the KU student code and can be disciplined by KU administration for violating those rules, including sexual misconduct.
Haney said he welcomes that oversight, adding that if KU were to expel a student for misconduct, they’d also be kicked out of Naismith.
Haney said he would like Naismith to have a formal recognition or registration with KU, but for now it does not.
KU Student Housing director Diana Robertson said her department has no formal relationship with Naismith hall.
However, Robertson said, KU Student Housing did contract with Naismith to house the men’s basketball team and other McCarthy Hall residents for a couple months when the new on-campus apartment building was completed behind schedule in October 2015.
Haney said Naismith can make accommodations like that because it has had extra room and also because, being privately owned, it has less red tape. He said Naismith also has housed groups of international students here for one- to two-month programs and, in the summer, thousands of people participating in athletic camps on campus.
“We can do things on the fly,” he said. “We put ’em up, we feed ’em, they become part of our community.”
Privately owned residence halls are not common, nor have they ever been, Robertson said.
When Naismith opened in September 1966 (the same month KU opened Oliver Hall across the street), it was the first privately financed dorm at the university, according to Journal-World articles from that month. The $2.5 million structure was built and operated by Allen Brothers and O’Hara of Memphis, Tenn. Initially coed by floor, Naismith boasted wall-to-wall carpeting, private telephones, “large desk-dressers” and temperature controls for heat and air in each “spacious” suite.
“Management and staff will be university approved and will work in complete cooperation with school authorities to maintain the identical supervision, rules and standards that apply throughout the University,” a newspaper advertisement said.
Naismith is one of two university residence halls currently owned by Bromley Companies.
The other is 731-bed Bromley Hall, adjacent to the University of Illinois campus in Champaign, Ill., which Haney said Bromley Companies has owned for decades.
Illinois requires first-year students to live in a university-certified facility — either campus housing or certified private housing.
Bromely Hall is a university certified facility and maintains 100 percent occupancy “with substantial waiting lists,” according to Bromley Companies’ website.
Bromley Companies owned several other university residence halls but sold them over the years, some to the affiliated universities themselves, Haney said.
Naismith is the first student housing facility Bromley has purchased in some time, Haney said.
A big thing the company is banking on?
“Location, location, location,” Haney said. “We did our homework on the 10-year plan of the university, and we knew they were coming this way.”
In addition to Capitol Federal Hall, the new School of Business building, construction is underway now on KU’s $350 million Central District redevelopment project.
Bromley owns the building and the block its on, plus a small adjacent parking lot at 18th and Arkansas streets, Haney said. The site is bordered on two sides by KU campus proper.
“Our plan is to keep this as a residence hall for the students,” Haney said. “We’re long-term investors.”