From Our Inbox: East Campus & College Towns

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East Campus Steering Committee meetings have had a number of careful observers. Many agree that three divergent tracks–the university’s goals, the community’s concerns and the developer’s interest in the bottom line–have not coalesced. This may be attributable to a backwards process. The Steering Committee’s work has been akin to a rushed, project-specific visioning process, something that clearly should have preceded the RFP and selection of a developer. Progress has been made with the campus on sustainability issues. Unfortunately, they are simply joining the parade, rather than leading it. But the project’s character will make or break it. One of our readers addresses this below.

The Foulger-Pratt/Argo team doesn’t seem to understand how college towns work, but after listening to the presentations I think it might go beyond the question of what kinds of stores people like to frequent.

My impression is that the team consists of generally well-informed and well-intentioned regional suburban developers. They are very conscious of market trends, and also well mindful of developing standards (in a good way), but are thinking in regional terms, in which different developments are commodities and markets are volatile, with residents and shoppers easily switching allegiance from one location to another. That is why they see Konterra as a rival.

What they don’t see is that College Park is just as much a rival with places like Chapel Hill, Charlottesville and Madison, the places that College Park competes with for human capital. College Park will not be in competition with Konterra for residents, and its potential appeal to shoppers is very different from that of Konterra.

College towns also tend to enjoy greater loyalty from residents than do regular suburbs and the job market is less volatile. I could go on, but I think that it’s this deeper aspect of why this is different from other suburbs that the developers don’t seem to have grasped (or they don’t believe it’s true), and without that many of the other details don’t fall into place. But I think that UM and the City of College Park also bear some of the blame for failing to present a coherent vision of what they can offer that is unique.

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Filed under Community, Design, Developers, East Campus, Local Economy, Public Input

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