Rebuilding the Art of the Stroll — DDC Journal

Developer goes beyond student housing, delivering true communities for residents

Sidewalk Development, a real estate development firm based in Baltimore, Maryland, and Charleston, South Carolina, focuses on merging campus, commerce and community—what the firm refers to as the "three C's"—in its master plans to bring its holistic community visions to fruition. Since being founded in 2006, the firm has focused mainly on projects in university cities and towns, where it often leverages public-private partnerships and unique funding structures.

"Most developers in the public-private education space are limited to student housing. That's not the case with us." says Tim Elliott, Partner at Sidewalk Development. "We work with universities and cities to go beyond just student housing. We believe wholeheartedly in the entire picture of the health of a university community."

That community, Elliott says, includes the rest of the town outside a campus. To that end, all of Sidewalk Development's properties fulfill the needs of the university itself, the non-student taxpayers and the local government.

"Our name comes from the fact that we believe in rebuilding the 'art of the stroll,' in particular within the university town setting," Elliott says. "In order to achieve that total community vision, we orchestrate cooperation with trustees of the university, the residents of the community, the local legislature and private investors."


In many small and medium-sized university towns, students provide significant economic benefits to the community, primarily through patronizing local businesses. Sidewalk Development adds to this economic vitality by including retail, hotel and office spaces in its properties, giving owners more options to locate their businesses close to where students live and attend school.

"The businesses that seem to continually compete in university-centric communities are coffee shops, book stores, pizza places and pubs," Elliott says. "All our projects involve, for lack of a better term, a 'festival marketplace.' Our projects are not just meant for university constituency but also for all the constituency in the community."

One of the firm's current developments, is in Rock Hill, South Carolina, a city with a population of about 66,000. Home to Winthrop University, the town was formally the home of one of the largest textile mills in the state. The factory once supported 5,000 jobs before it was abandoned—and jobs went overseas.

The old mill sat unused for about 15 years until Elliott's team—with support from local developers Gary Williams and Skip Tuttle—decided to take on the massive effort of repurposing the mill for university and community use.

Once complete, the project, known as University Center, will have converted the mill into offices, retail space, student and senior housing and a recreational facility. the first phase is set to be complete this summer.

Due to the long-term nature of the development, the 16-building complex is a project that Elliott says most developers would hesitate to tackle. The demolition and site cleanup alone have required a monumental logistical effort, but Elliott says his team is proud of the value the firm will provide to the community once the project is complete.

A 220,000 square-foot office building on-site will be used predominantly by members of the Rock Hill community rather than by Winthrop University. Phase II of the project, involving a 189,000 square-foot athletic center, will be leased by the city once the center is finished.

Winthrop University student housing will complete the "three C's" for Sidewalk Development.

Although two new student housing buildings will be operated by private companies, the buildings will be adjacent to the campus to give students the feeling they are on campus without having to live in residence halls. University Center fuses the three C's to create a destination for all local community members to use.


Although Sidewalk Development certainly focuses on constructing properties that benefit the standard-aged college student, Elliott says that his company would be remiss to neglect developing properties that engage learners of all ages—including residents of senior housing.

"We also incorporate senior housing amidst the town center, literally adjacent to a university," he says. "The university functions are a portion of the large-scale projects, but not all the projects we do."

According to Elliott, Sidewalk Development works closely with each university to develop lifelong learning projects and other activities for seniors whenever possible. In fact, Elliott's specialty before co-founding Sidewalk Development was partner of an architecture firm that specializes in designing senior living communities.

The conventional model for senior living typically has three levels of care: independent living, assisted living and nursing care. These facilities often get placed on the outskirts of town, where seniors can be literally and figuratively forgotten.

"Tomorrow's senior will not flock to that product. They want to be integrated in the community," Elliott says. The product we develop is not all three levels of care. We see to develop the independent living product for 67 to 80-year-old people. That's what we call the 'great second act career', in which they integrate within the university culture."

In the coming years, Sidewalk Development will continue its work to rebuild the "art of the stroll."

"Student housing is the darling of Wall Street and has been for some time," says Elliott. "However, we think that we strengthen that product when we build student housing within a community setting—not just in and of itself."