Sunday, May 10, 2015

Make Downtown Brooklyn a college town? It's also about development rights

A 4/17/15 op-ed in Crain's New York Business from Tucker Reed of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) was headlined Make Brooklyn a college town.

That's pretty much on par with the message from the DBP for the past three years, since a new initiative was launched in July 2012 to "Raise Downtown Brooklyn’s profile as a 'college town.'"

But the sub-heading on Reed's essay hints at an additional new agenda item: "Higher-education institutions own millions of square feet of untapped development rights in downtown Brooklyn."

This, as far as I can tell, had not been previously suggested by the DBP, and points to a more complicated goal beyond connecting students to area amenities and jobs. Writes Reed:
Institutions of higher education own millions of square feet of unbuilt development rights in the area. It's time to bring those properties to life. The institutions should leverage private investment to transform their underutilized real estate into first-rate facilities that support their academic and housing needs. It's a winning strategy in several ways.

First, it would lift the institutions themselves. Broadly accepted research shows that student housing not only diversifies a school's student body but also increases retention and graduation rates. Further, investing in housing fosters a sense of community among students and an affinity for one's alma mater—increasing chances that they'll give back later on.

Downtown Brooklyn schools need only to look across the river, to New York University. Once largely considered a commuter school, NYU changed its approach and took advantage of its location and underutilized real estate assets to cultivate a campus environment attractive to students and businesses alike. This recognition and subsequent shift in approach played an important role in establishing the school as one of America's premier universities.
Reed suggests that "the de Blasio administration understands this" because "the city last fall collaborated with the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and academic institutions to launch the Downtown Brooklyn Higher Education Consortium."

Maybe, maybe not, since that wasn't on the consortium's original agenda.

Writes Reed:
The playbook is straightforward: Couple institutional strength with an advantageous location to create buzzing campus destinations for students, jobs, businesses and affordable student housing.
Reed notes that the "primary aim [of the consortium] is to connect local students with local jobs." That's very different from utilizing development rights.

If that development is truly for "affordable student housing," that's one thing. But I'm not sure that's the DBP's mission. What's in it for the developers? What does it mean to have a campus destination for businesses?

So we'll see.

Looking at the documents

The DBP's page on Downtown Brooklyn Higher Education Consortium states:
With more than 60,000 college students hailing from 11 higher education institutions, Downtown Brooklyn is truly New York City's College Town.
That’s why the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership has made it a priority to raise the area’s profile by creating the Downtown Brooklyn Higher Education Consortium. The Consortium fosters cooperation among member institutions to broaden and enrich academic programs, encourage fiscal economies through shared services, facilitate interactions with industry, and expand and encourage student programming and community service activities.
In 2014, the City provided seed funds to formalize the Downtown Brooklyn Higher Education Consortium, which will continue existing programs while also expanding areas of collaboration among member institutions, local industry, and the city.

In 2015, Edward Summers became the Consortium's first Executive Director and is currently meeting with member institutions, industry, and the city to discuss the direction of the organization. A strategic plan will be developed and presented to the Consortium and strategic partners later this year.

Below is a sampling of ongoing events that are part of our Consortium efforts:
Annual Tech Triangle U symposium (all events are free and open to the public)
Brooklyn Tech Triangle Job BoardCollege Town Service DaysGuide to Downtown Brooklyn Pre-College Programs
The plan announced in 2012

DNAinfo on 7/31/12, in Downtown Brooklyn Partnership Aims to Make 'DoBro' Next Great College Town, highlighted the new strategic plan. That plan stated Ensure educational institutions are incorporated into the fabric of Downtown.


The details:
COMMUNITY: Raise Downtown Brooklyn’s profile as a “college town,” and stress the tremendous assets that local educational institutions are when promoting the area for commercial attraction.
  • Engage in place-making and infrastructure planning that makes it easier for students and faculty to connect to area amenities.
  • Plan signature events for Downtown Brooklyn’s college student population. Develop new programs that inform students about area amenities and target promotions to encourage their use.
  • Convene educational leadership and work with them to identify and highlight opportunities for institutions to collaborate and enjoy the benefits of shared resources.
  • Connect cultural, residential and educational communities
In the February 2014 Commercial Observer, Reed said, "One of the things we’re really excited about and are working on now is connecting the schools with the companies that are growing here." 

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