Bob Bytes Back Archive May, 2002: Smoking Gun (OSU Columbus Campus Partners)

by Bob Fitrakis

It’s the end of the campus as we know it, and I feel slimed.
If you really want to know what Campus Partners is all about, don’t buy their hype or PR spin. Instead, read Graydon Hambrick’s article, “A New Campus Partnership” in the April 1996 Ohio State Alumni Magazine (OSAM). It reveals the real agenda; it’s the smoking gun.

Campus Partners portrays itself as just another non-profit organization seeking to promote community cooperation. In reality, it’s a “redevelopment corporation”–they prefer the term “revitalization”–similar to the one that wired the City Center mall deal. As Hambrick puts it, “As such, it is allowed special legal privileges.” Indeed.

Recall the City Center development. In 1977 the city of Columbus purchased $26 million in land and leased it to the Capitol South Community Urban Development Corporation, which in turn subleased the land to billionaire mall developer Al Taubman. Before Taubman built the City Center mall, city and state government officials combined to legally declare the downtown area “blighted” and a “slum.” Columbus Monthly reported that approximately $80 million more in non-repayable public tax expenditures flowed into the mall’s development. When subleasee Taubman began to rake in the dough courtesy of the public’s largess, Capitol South owed the city some $67 million. This is an old game. As Robert Goodman illustrates in his book, The Last Entrepreneurs, billionaire developers like Taubman and Max Fisher–yes, they just named the business school after Fisher at OSU–know how to get taxpayers to provide the “risk capital” for major for-profit private development projects.

Both Taubman and Fisher are good friends of fellow billionaire and OSU Trustee Les Wexner. A senior OSU administrator admits that Les Wexner is stirring the pot on the Campus Partners redevelopment. Despite the fact that there was neither a “needs assessment” done nor any need for a performing arts center at 15th and High, Wexner, according to sources, doesn’t like the view from the Wexner Center east across High Street.

Hambrick writes that OSU President Gordon Gee “….has ‘other commitments’ from businesses that he is ‘not ready’ to speak about, and that Ohio State Trustee Leslie Wexner, head of the Limited clothing empire, has shown an interest in the High Street development.” (p. 27, OSAM) No doubt.

In the late ’70s in Detroit, Taubman and Fisher managed to talk the bankrupt city into giving them $100 million in prime riverfront land for the development of the Riverfront West luxury condominiums. Next, they had the state legislature pass the infamous “Max Fisher law” that created a 24-year 50 percent tax abatement for the property–twice as long an abatement as any in Michigan history. Then, they used their political connections with the Reagan administration to use the city’s federal mass transit money to build a people-mover that runs from the Riverfront West complex, where the wealthy live, to the Renaissance Center, where they work, and the Greektown restaurant strip, where they eat. So, it’s now possible to live in luxury and work in Detroit without ever setting foot on a city street. I’m sure that Les’ buddies have relayed this “success” story to him.

I have no doubt they’re planning a similar carnage in the OSU area. As Hambrick notes, “A special improvement district along the High Street strip will be created under Ohio law.” This is the same tactic Wexner used in New Albany. Say goodbye to Stache’s, Monkey’s Retreat, Used Kids and the like, because the alumni are being promised: “spiffy and modern businesses and galleries, a variety of restaurants, decent housing full of enlightened people….” (p. 27, OSAM)

Hambrick goes so far as to call Gee’s and Wexner’s New Campus Order a “Garden of Eden.” And who are we to argue, since they’re planning “. movie houses, a bowling alley, clothing stores run by national merchandisers [read: Leslie Wexner], maybe even sports bars such as they have in the ‘burbs.” (p. 26, OSAM) Be still my heart!

And Gee just keeps on giving and giving–of course, maybe it’s because he recently got that huge raise engineered by Les. Gee admits it’ll even be better than the ‘burbs because OSU’s planning on returning to “a modified in loco parentis.” Thus, Papa Gee and Uncle Les will protect students from the harsh realities of campus life. Gee assured the alumni in finest democratic fashion that: “I have no intention to make [student life] boring…. [But] there will be no plebiscite on the fundamental issue of change.” That means, to the unenlightened, there won’t be a student community vote, we’re jamming it down your throat.

In an area bounded on the north by the Glen Echo ravine and Fifth Avenue on the south, stretching from the Olentangy River on the west and the Conrail tracks on the east, they’re planning to build their Brave New Campus World.