Construction continues on the Hub Plus building, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in West Lafayette. (Photo: Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier)
Construction continues on the Hub Plus building, Wednesday, May 15, 2019, in West Lafayette. (Photo: Nikos Frazier | Journal & Courier)
WEST LAFAYETTE – Amid the buzz May 8 in Hangar No. 8 at the Purdue Airport – the morning Saab announced it would plant 300 jobs and a $37 million facility to build fighter jet fuselages in West Lafayette – there were plenty of side conversations around the idea of proof of concept, there near campus and along a two-mile stretch into the city.

Saab was being treated as a huge win for Purdue and West Lafayette, a keystone in the university’s new “live-work-play” Discovery Park District. Saab was the latest in a recent flurry of development activity, adding toward what university officials hope will draw $1 billion in private investment on 400 acres west of campus over the next 30 years.

That day, President Mitch Daniels talked about the boost of confidence Saab gave for a calculated risk Purdue took on Discovery Park District and, before it, the State Street Project. That $120 million overhaul of State Street and surrounding West Lafayette roads was intended to work dual purposes: create calmer traffic through campus and invite a more pedestrian-friendly, urban-style near campus that would send a signal to businesses and developers.

“As we’re seeing today,” Daniels said, “there’s just a lot going on.”

It’s probably a good time to catch our breath and count it all up.

Since the start of the project – which crammed $120 million of work on State Street and on a system of streets on the north, south and west parts of campus into a little under three years – more than $550 million in student housing high-rises, retail and industrial projects have gone up or are about to in what the city considers the State Street corridor. And that’s just so far.

“It’s a whole new skyline,” West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis said Friday morning, looking up State Street hill toward what he’d been touting as a new downtown. “Did we think it would be this fast? No, with a caveat. … I thought we’d start small and grew big later. But here it is.”

Whether it’s been too much – or the correct type – is something Dennis likely will have to address in a late-forming challenge in the November election, as New Chauncey Neighborhood resident Zachary Baiel lines up an independent campaign for mayor.

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