by Bob Fitrakis and Sally MacPhail
Last week, the University Area Commission, Campus Partners for Community Urban Redevelopment, the Columbus Development Commission and the Columbus Historic Resources Commission all adopted resolutions endorsing the University Neighborhoods Revitalization Plan, a 250-page document drafted by Campus Partners that addresses just about every aspect of off-campus life from trash collection to land use, from drinking and drug abuse to community schools. Intended to encourage reinvestment-financial and philosophical-by present and prospective businesses, residents, students, and the university itself, the plan has been a source of public debate for the last few months. Critics charge that the proposed clean-up will eradicate a unique multi-ethnic urban community.
Around the Ivory Tower It is the sweeping-some might say, overwhelming-way in which Campus Partners is approaching OSU’s role off-campus that has had some observers worried. One of the most vocal critics of the former Final Draft was Columbus Alive columnist, Bob Fitrakis, who called it former Campus Partners President Barry Humphries’ “mission to make the campus area safe for Max and Erma’s….In fact, in the original draft of the master plan revealed in November, yuppification north of campus and ghettoization south of campus were the twin pillars holding up the new campus fortress.”
Asked to react to Fitrakis’ comments that the plan might result in gentrification that would eradicate the campus counter-culture, Campus Partners’ Marc Conte said: “I think he’s pretty right. Those are pretty much my sentiments. When [other board members] ask for my opinion on retail, I say we can look at the record stores and see that the independent record stores survive, not the chain stores. People like the independent businesses, they like the uniqueness of the area; that’s one of the reason we’re shopping here, ’cause there’s no other reason. And the other thing is that there’s an incredible amount of retail diversity; now just because Target isn’t up as the main sign for the area doesn’t mean you can’t find everything that you find at Target.”
Among the major long-term projects for revitalization of the commercial strip along High Street are three theme areas-one at Lane, one at 15th, and one at 10th-that will be the “rooms” through which one progresses. At the north end, a widened and realigned Lane Avenue will mark an “expanded international village,” drawing upon the mixed uses and multi-ethnic restaurants in the area. There will be an Arts Gateway at 15th across from the Wexner Center. The last and most controversial component is an entertainment/retail/office/commercial development at High Street where E. 11th and W. 10th would be realigned to meet. Among the chain ventures suggested as possible occupants of the site are Max and Erma’s, The Limited, The Gap, and Urban Outfitters.
“All this talk about Max and Erma’s by Campus Partners, they really don’t understand the market or how to deal with the residents. What’s their college-trained manager going to do the first time a member of the rugby team comes in to their upscale restaurant and pisses in a corner? How are they going to handle that? What they don’t want to admit is that the bar owners know this area, we know this market and we’re professionals,” commented Brad Miller, owner of Maxwell’s.
Conte, too, is unwilling to give in yet to the notion of High Street as a mall with major retailers anchoring it. “The problem I know we’re going to run into when they want to build new structures or new businesses, to build those structures they’re going to have to have a national caliber retailer in order to convince the banks that they should get more money for it. …Wherever that happens, I’ve really been encouraging that that be our last resort.”
“High Street has enormous potential,” Campus Partners’ community liaison Steve Sterrett said. He maintained, though, that “It’s not working well now. Students are spending their discretionary funds elsewhere.”
A self-created war zone
Miller, for one, thinks the fault for that lies with the police. “This is the hardest place in the nation to own a bar… It’s a war zone. They’ve dehumanized the students. The police have to realize that the students are not the armies of darkness,” he said. Miller argued that the original Campus Partners rhetoric about “a dangerous neighborhood in decline,” has added to the south campus woes.
He pointed out that because of the conflict with the police, students are now “paying to get out of this area” and drink at places like Mekka. “It shouldn’t have to be that way,” Miller said.
The Columbus police take a drubbing in the Campus Partners plan, both for their lack of sensitivity toward students and their failure to follow through with the Park, Walk and Talk program designed to get officers out of their cruisers and onto the sidewalks. Mark Hatch, director of Community Crime Patrol and a member of the Campus Partners board, has already begun meeting with law enforcement and student representatives, according to Sterrett.
Campus Partners is seen by both south campus bar owners and residents as sort of a new temperance movement. At a December meeting of the Undergraduate Student Government Assembly, Humphries lectured students on partying “responsibly.” President E. Gordon Gee is quoted in the April issue of the Ohio State Alumni Magazine as saying: “I have no intention to make [student life] boring. . . [but] there will be no plebiscite on the fundamental issue of change.” Most of Gee’s envisioned “change” has focused from the beginning on downsizing the south campus bar strip.
Gee recently told students lobbying for domestic partnership benefits that change takes time and he used Campus Partners as his analogy. “When I first came here six years ago I knew something had to be done, so every year, six years ago, five years ago, four years ago, I asked for money to do something. I finally got the money….” Gee conceded that critics may correctly view his attack on the south campus bar strip as a return to the principle of in loco parentis, the notion that the university should act as a surrogate parent to students under the age of 21.
Certainly, even under the modified Final Final Draft, the university is expected to take a much greater responsibility for its students. It calls for students to be trained for community service, for the university to assess that service, for incentives to be provided to encourage service, and for students to follow the code of conduct anytime they are engaged in a university-related activity, a modified in loco parentis.
Campus Partners’ Conte agrees that the university “should definitely be taking a more active role; then how that’s done is the question.”
One way that the university could begin addressing the problem would start right on campus, with increased expenditures for student activities and health and counseling services. Mindbogglingly, the university spends about 10% of what similar institutions spend on alternative activities for students, according to the Campus Partners plan. As the instructional fee for students has risen, tuition costs have been controlled by keeping the general activity fee-that which pays for non-instructional programming-low. As a result, there is not much that the university provides students to divert them from haunting the High Street bars.
In the meantime, there is not one full-time person working on alcohol abuse on campus, according to Conte. “There’s nobody on campus that’s trying to coordinate activities to reduce alcohol usage and prevent alcohol abuse, and I think that’s why we have all the problems on 12th Avenue because there hasn’t been any planning…. This alcohol position was recommended to be funded as part of OSU’s budget process, but the last I heard from OSU vice president on Student Affairs [David Williams] was it wasn’t going to be funded.”
Williams was in Africa last week and could not be reached for comment.
Despite the university’s disinvestment, Conte thinks the students need to realize their responsibilities. He is encouraged by planning among off-campus student and year-round residents to meet and orient students new to the neighborhoods. The idea is to be pro-active with students moving off-campus “so you immediately make them partners in that neighborhood….. And the students need to realize that they might be here temporarily, but they’re stewards of the university and the university area.”
Extending its boundaries
Work by Campus Partners has not been limited to the East Campus neighborhoods. Language in the Final Final Draft is deliberately more inclusive than in earlier drafts in an attempt to extend the university’s responsibility to the north and south as well.
“There’s still a lot of things missing,” UAC’s Skubovius cautioned, “particularly in the northern third of the district. A little money could go a long way.” But he called the extensively revised document “more acceptable.”
In the north campus area, Campus Partners initially worked closely with the Glen Echo South Civic Association. That collaboration spawned an oppositional organization, The Common Ground Forum. The Common Ground folks objected to the original Campus Partners proposal to close and redirect area streets. Joe Demshar, the owner of Top Priority Pizza, emerged as the most vocal critic of the Campus Partners plan.
“It’s been mostly quiet up here since Barry Humphries’ departure,” he stated, although, at a May 22 meeting of the Civic Association, Demshar claimed that Campus Partners’ spokesperson Julie Boyland “discredited herself.” Boyland presented the Campus Partners perspective on the need for “traffic calming” and the closing of Fourth Street. “It was quite a fiasco,” Demshar declared. “Julie attempted to shout down the Common Ground attorney Laura Sharp. She kept yelling: ‘Where do you live? What are you doing here?'” while Sharp was presenting the less-intrusive Common Ground proposals calling for stop signs and speed bumps.
Demshar believes that the election of Jim Hubbard, of the Common Ground group, as vice president of the Glen Echo South Civic Association at a June 3 meeting signals the ability of the neighborhood to solve their traffic problems without Campus Partners’ intervention. “They have nothing to do with anything up here anymore. We can solve our own problems without their involvement,” he said.
The university in drag
Unlike the University Area Commission, Demshar is unwilling to endorse Campus Partners’ Final Final Draft. “Who is Campus Partners? It’s the university in drag. Why do they deserve the other side of High Street? It’s a land grab by the university using a not-for-profit entity as a diversionary tactic to get involved in commercial enterprises,” in Demshar’s analysis. He asked, “How well managed are they? They bury nuclear waste and cadavers under the Fawcett Center and forgot about it.”
Echoing the sentiments of the UAC, Demshar dashed off a list of what he sees as the real needs of north campus: “If Campus Partners, and I mean the university, wants to do something for us, let them fix our streets, improve the lighting, help us get new sidewalks and curbs, bury the utility lines, build green space, clean our streets, improve the landscape-that’s what this area needs. Not the Limited!”
” As a student, I’m concerned about the displacement of people and the problems. If the rents go up, everything gets nice, and people can’t afford to live here, where are they going to go?” Conte asked, raising the same concerns. “And again, [there’s] this feeling that there’s this assumption that there is no community here. But it is there and we threaten to destroy what communities we do have.”
“I’m torn because I understand the economics of it,” he continued, adding, though, “I know I don’t agree with everything that’s in [the plan], but I know something needs to be done,” Conte concluded.