SDSU could have ‘Fraternity Row’
by Vicki Schuster
Some “displaced” South Dakota State University fraternities and sororities may, in the not-too-distant future, have a new home to call their own.
Last week, the South Dakota Board of Regents approved a master ground lease with the State College Development Association that will enable creation of 4.7 acres near McCrory Gardens for a Greek Village.
One parcel of land for future development is between FarmHouse and the Brookings Fire Station on the 700 block of 20th Avenue. A second lot is on the other side of Alpha Gamma Rho, which is across the street to the north of FarmHouse.
Marysz P. Rames, vice president of student affairs, says the plan honors the original agreement SDSU made with the Greek life system almost four decades ago. Rames said since 1972, that land was set aside to be developed for Greek chapter houses.
“At the time, the banking industry was quite different, so … (Alpha Gamma Rho) and FarmHouse were able to build their chapter houses.”
But since then, Rames explained, the banking industry has undergone changes and “so the way the land is currently written up in South Dakota codified law, our Greek chapters could not get bankable loans to build out there.”
Rames cited a “reversion clause” in the codified law concerning land and the improvements of the land that made the loans difficult to obtain.
The newly approved master ground lease will allow other Greek chapters to obtain loans to build houses on land that will be subleased from the State College Development Association for $1 per year on 99-year agreements.
The bank loan would be repaid with rent from the tenants of the chapter houses.
Rames says a few local fraternities have been “displaced” in the past few years – by fires and plans for university parking lots – and may find the idea of a ground lease appealing.
She says Chi Omega members have been living in the residences halls since the university bought their chapter house several years ago.
A February fire at Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) has also scattered those members into rental units around town. SAE President Drew Carwile said since the incident – which was caused by a damaged electric power strip – members and alumni have been working on building a new house for SAE, whether it’s on existing property or one of the Greek Village lots.
“We all are excited with the prospects of our new house and are taking the necessary steps to build, whether we build on our lot south of campus or in one of the Greek Village lots,” he said.
Rames said Sigma Phi Epsilon, now located at 804 Sixth Ave., has also been renting and reports that its members are excited by the idea of a Greek Village, as well as, Ceres, another SDSU women’s sorority.
“We’ve been trying to figure out a way to give these chapters an option – and it’s strictly an option at this point – to build out there,” said Rames. “This ground lease gives them an opportunity.”
Carwile says there is definite interest for SAE to approach the university, “but right now we are keeping all our options open,” he said. “There is still a lot of work to be done on our side and SDSU’s side as well in order to … make the idea of a unified Greek community on Greek Village a reality.”
No fraternity or sorority has talked about building or moving in the near future, but Rames says she welcomes any ideas.
“Right now we are in the process of letting the Greek chapters know it went through and talking with them to see what interest there is. And depending on the interest, having a discussion on how we can allocate some lots,” she said.
300-plus in Greek life
Addie Wolcott, Greek Life adviser at SDSU, says there are currently six male fraternities and four female fraternities with a total active membership of about 300.
She did not attend the regent’s meeting but is excited for the idea of a Greek village. “I’ve spoken to other Greek officials at other universities, and this would be a great way to unify the campus and the community,” she said. “It would be great to have a unified presence near campus by having all of the houses together.”
Rames agreed. “Many universities are doing this, and we thought it would be great to have all of our Greek chapters together. It would really build some unity.”
Carwile said there are several advantages to having a central location for Greek housing. “The impact of having a line of nice Greek houses would be beneficial to recruitment to our fraternity and, more importantly, to Greek life in general,” he said.
“It would also foster more inter-fraternal interaction between not only the men’s fraternities but also the women’s fraternities ...”