GALVESTON — Some commercial landlords on the island said they fear a $55 million project to construct a new 612-bed dormitory at Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Pelican Island campus will hurt their businesses.
Lamson Nguyen owns University Apartments Galveston, which is walking distance from the campus. He has seen a steady decrease in occupancy during the past couple of years because of the university’s newly constructed dormitories.
“We used to be at 95 percent occupancy before the dorms opened,” Lamson said. “Now we are at about 50 percent. We have about 260 beds and less than half of them are filled.”
Nguyen, who is a TAMUG graduate, wants the university to grow, but is worried about how building more dormitories is going to affect local businesses.
“If you require 21-year-olds to stay on campus, and you require them to buy a meal plan here, the students basically live here, eat here in a tax-free environment; it’s going to be pretty hard for local businesses to compete with that,” Nguyen said.
The university requires all students younger than 21 to live on campus. However, exceptions are in place for some students including, single parents, married students, military veterans, students living nearby with a legal guardian, among others.
Shane McDermott, who is a Galveston realtor, said he thinks it is important for college students to have the choice to stay on the island and be a part of the community so both the University and Galveston can thrive.
“When (students are) over here on Pelican Island they’re separated from the island,” McDermott said. “As someone who lives in Galveston, I want to see more students where I live. I want Galveston to be a young town. If there were more students living in town, Galveston would embrace A&M more.
“I think by encouraging them to live in Galveston and eat in Galveston, everybody wins,” he said. “I do have rentals in the East End, and I handle a lot of UTMB students because they have much more flexibility on where they can live.
“TAMUG is focused on they have to live here on Pelican Island. I would just like to see A&M students mixing with UTMB students, because then we would become a student community, which I think is a great direction for Galveston.”
Bob Wright, executive director for marketing communications for the university, argues the new dorms are necessary for the campus’ growth and success, and he thinks the increasing student body will benefit the community.
“Our goal is to have campus enrollment reach 3,000 in three years,” Wright said. “That is 1,000 more students, and we plan to continue to grow once we hit that mark. We simply do not have the space for all those students without building an additional residence hall.
“Additionally, all our students visit their favorite local shops and restaurants. This growth will mean more students and their families who visit or attend graduations will be using area hotels, restaurants, shops and amenities.”
New Hope Cultural Education facilities Finance Corp. issued bonds last month to finance construction of the dormitory, and Hunt Construction will build it.
TAMUG expects 2,100 students to attend the university in the fall.