CHARLESTON -- Business owners are taking the news of Eastern Illinois University's enrollment increase well, with some reportedly planning renovations and other changes to prepare for a growing student population.
Jordan Landeck, interim Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce president, said some of these businesses in the city really took a beating as a result of the decline in enrollment in recent years.
"We have heard specifically from some businesses that definitely felt the hit during the decrease in numbers," Landeck said
But already, the 7.1 percent increase in enrollment for the current semester has been felt.
"They were worried about what the future of their business was... We definitely heard that those (business owners) are feeling the increase now," she said.
Landeck noted some of the bars and other businesses near Lincoln Avenue that cater to students are either remodeling, extending hours or adding specials "to be able to draw in those students."
Landeck said the positive shift is palpable.
Tammy Bell, Ike's owner, said it is a big deal for her and her business.
"I am super excited and not just for business," Bell said. "I was born and raised here, so to watch it decline the way it has saddens me."
No new renovations are planned for Ike's as a result of the news, but she said these numbers do affect her. She does benefit more now from local residents patronizing her establishment; however, students still make up a big part of her business.
She said it will probably take a few more years of enrollment increases until people start seeing big expansions and renovations in the city. But she and other business owners see this as a good sign for the future of the university and the community.
She hopes this means people stop leaving the city and more jobs can return as a result.
Bell noted the dynamic in the town is changing. Already, patrons she has spoken with have talked about how the city is coming back as result of the enrollment increase.
For her, Landeck and others like Drew Finney, a leasing agent at Unique Properties, this dynamic means something.
"I feel like the students are even more positive this year," Finney said. "The ones coming in are more positive than definitely the faces we saw last year."
Finney attributed that to the growing success of the school and its stability, which was shaken by the budget impasse.
While there are more residential tenants in their properties, Unique largely caters to students and this year, the firm is already seeing signs of a resurgence.
Much of the enrollment increase comes from the addition of 155 more freshman students from last year, who stay in the dorm their first year, but Finney said their office has gotten noticeably more calls from interested tenants than in recent years, and she attributed part of that to EIU enrollment.
This positive momentum could translate into more students, Landeck believes.
"The excitement around that will grow in other ways," Landeck said. "The more students on campus, the more they will be able to speak to their friends who might be in high school or junior colleges ... and be able to speak on their opportunities."
EIU President David Glassman has indicated his goal is to make EIU a 9,000-student-strong campus again. At its peak, EIU had an enrollment of approximately 12,000.
Steve Pamperin, Charleston city planner, said these increases will further serve the city when recruiting businesses to make Charleston their home.
He noted there has been more interest in renovations and other similar changes recently, and said one major factor is definitely the positive enrollment numbers.
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