Photograph by Steven Higgs

The Talbots boutique building on the corner of College and Kirkwood is the most expensive building on the Square to sell in the past five years.

Those who argue that the influx of wealthy college students living downtown is driving up the costs for small, local businesses will find support in county property records for the Courthouse Square.

As massive student housing projects like Smallwood and The Mercury at Regester Place have been planned and developed since the turn of the century, the selling prices of the commercial buildings on the Square over the past five years have jumped dramatically.

According to the Bloomington Plan Department, roughly 750 new apartments have been added in the downtown area since 2000. The complexes advertise everything from studio to four-bedroom units.

Public records in the Monroe County Assessor and Recorder's offices show that six buildings have sold on the Courthouse Square since 2001. The last property sold in 2005 fetched more than twice the square-footage rate of the last one sold in 2002.

The records also show that only one out-of-town company owns property on the Square and that property ownership has become increasingly diverse, culturally speaking.

Some politically connected names show up repeatedly in the ownership records, as well.

The data are culled from Monroe County Parcel Reports, Sales Disclosures, Property Assessment Detail Reports and Warranty Deeds.

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Since the early 2000s, "luxury apartments" have become the rage among those who have economic and political control over downtown Bloomington. The market is almost exclusively college students, many from Chicago and the East Coast.

One of the larger downtown landlords, Olympus Properties, which owns The Mercury, recently listed studio apartments from $810-$900, one-bedrooms from $890 to $1,250 and two-bedrooms from $1,205 to $1,800.

Smallwood on College and the Mercury Morton received final city planning approval in November and October 2002, respectively.

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County property records show that the last two downtown buildings to sell before Smallwood and the Mercury were approved were the Opie Taylor's building on Walnut Street and the Bloomington Sandwich Shop building directly across the Square on North College.

The Opie Taylor's property sold in March 2001 for $350,000.

Jane W. Newby, who had owned it since 1984, sold the building and 0.079-acre lot to the 1928 Beaux Arts Building LLC, Li-Hwa Wu, Arman Valaie and Yun-Li Yang.

The records do not list a size for the building, so it is not possible to calculate a square-foot price for it.

But records on the similarly sized and priced Bloomington Sandwich Shop, sold in August 2002, do record dimensions.

Thomas G. Gallagher purchased the 9,900-square-foot building and its 0.07-acre lot from Pritchett Properties for $370,000. Richard D. and Sylvia Pritchett had owned the property since 1985.

The building was constructed in 1920. Its condition is listed as "average."

Gallagher bought it for $37 a square foot.

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County records show that four other buildings on the Square have sold since the Smallwood and Mercury approvals, with the average sale price at $67 a square foot.

Personal injury attorney Ken Nunn's April 2005 sale of the Kirkwood-and-College corner building ranks as the most expensive property sold on the Square.

Nunn had owned the 0.11-acre and 14,916-square-foot Talbots boutique building since 1991.

The building was constructed in 1920 and is also listed in "average" condition.

Nunn sold the property to Bigo Properties LLC for $1.17 million, or $78 a square foot.

Bigo's registered agent is Bloomington attorney Geoffrey Grodner, the former city PCB attorney.

Other buildings sold between Gallagher's purchase and Nunn's sale include:

* The West Sixth Street building occupied by Q Billiards sold for $400,000 in September 2003.

John E. Seeber, Thomas M. Seeber, Regester Place LLC and Kevin Spicer sold it to Sun C., Hi J. and Kyu Chong.

Thomas Seeber serves on the Bloomington Plan Commission.

John Seeber had owned the building since 1994, in combination with a variety of others. The Q building sits on a 0.10-acre lot and has 7,029 square feet.

It was built in 1900 and is listed as "average" condition.

The property sold for $57 a square foot.

* The Samira Restaurant building on the corner of Walnut and Sixth sold for $438,000 in December 2003.

Local attorney Theodore Ferguson, who had owned it since 1989, sold the building to Hussain M. and Parwin M. Farzad and Anwar and Mary Naderpoor.

Ferguson is nephew to Cook Group Inc. Chair and IU Board of Trustees President Stephen Ferguson.

County records show the Samira building was built in 1900 and the property comprises 0.067 acres and 5,840 square feet.

Its condition is "average." It sold for $75 per square foot.

* The former Bloomington Paint and Wallpaper building at 110 W. Sixth sold for $410,000 in January 2004. Bloomington Paint sold it to Gul M. and Zakira Saeedi.

The 7,188-square-foot building, which now houses Qaisar Oriental Rugs, sits on 0.10 acre.

Its condition is listed as "average." It sold for $57 a square foot.

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Attorney David Ferguson, another Stephen Ferguson nephew and a former Monroe County Public Library board member, is full or part owner of three downtown properties - the Caveat Emptor and Williams Jewelry buildings on Walnut and the Vance Music building on Sixth.

Ferguson signs documents for Stardust Development LLC, which co-owns the Williams Jewelry and Vance properties.

Stardust's registered agent is Karen Howe Fernandez, an attorney who practices at Ferguson & Ferguson and wife of former Mayor John Fernandez.

Ferguson, along with Seeber, is listed as a previous owner of the Q Billiards building on Sixth.

Seeber is listed as a co-owner with Stardust of the Williams Jewelry building and as a previous owner of the Vance Music building.

CFC Inc., a Cook Group company, owns the Gallery North on the Square building on Sixth and the Goods for Cooks building on College.

Bigo Properties owns the Decorative Rug and former New Breed Tattoo buildings on Sixth at College, as well as the Talbots building.

Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.