Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Revisiting stories: community culture master plans should include an element on higher education institutions


In "Should community culture master plans include elements on higher education arts programs?," given the experience with the Corcoran School of Art and Design being merged into George Washington University, one of the nation's most expensive universities, and issues with Cornish College of Arts in Seattle, local cultural plans should include an element on higher education programs, if offered, within their communities.

Academy of Art University building at the Cannery, San Francisco.  Chronicle photo by Liz Hafalia.

But I didn't distinguish between "for profit" and "nonprofit" colleges in that discussion ("For profit art schools on the rise," HuffPost). 

That matters because often there are gaps in zoning review and planning policy when it comes to the difference between for profit and nonprofit higher education institutions and "trade schools" and between public and private universities--e.g., Maryland requires state schools to update their campus plans every five or six years, but private universities don't have the same requirements.

Issues with for profit "trade schools" have been an issue in many communities, such as with the constant expansion of the Academy of Art University in space-constrained San Francisco ("Academy of Art agrees to $60 million settlement," San Francisco Chronicle), and the shutdown of various arts and culinary arts programs across the country, and the turmoil in the for profit higher education sector more generally ("Amid industry turmoil, Strayer sees strength and growth in scale," Washington Business Journal).

From the SF Chronicle article:
After a decade of thumbing its nose at San Francisco’s zoning laws, the Academy of Art University has agreed to a $60 million settlement with the city aimed at bringing the school’s many illegally converted buildings into compliance with local rules.

The deal caps a highly charged battle with one of the nation’s largest for-profit art schools, an institution that is also one of the city’s biggest landlords — a fight that culminated in May when City Attorney Dennis Herrera sued the academy.

The city’s lawsuit said that at least 33 of the academy’s 40 buildings throughout the city — including its campus headquarters on New Montgomery Street — were out of compliance with zoning codes, signage laws or historic preservation rules. In addition, Herrera said, the school had taken 160 units of affordable residential units off the market and illegally turned them into student housing.
An even more current example that raises the general issue and the "for profit vs. nonprofit" issue concerns the Santa Fe University of Arts and Design in New Mexico. 

Owned by a for profit education company, Laureate Education, and opened in part with land and monies provided by the City of Santa Fe, the company announced plans to close the school next year ("Santa Fe University of Art and Design to close in 2018," Santa Fe New Mexican). From the article:
In addition to upending students’ college plans, the decision casts into uncertainty the jobs of about 75 full-time staff and promises a big change for the 60-acre midtown campus the school leases from the city of Santa Fe, which is still paying off millions of dollars in debt incurred when the municipal government bought the former College of Santa Fe property for use by the for-profit Laureate Education Inc. ...

“We’ve been battling this enrollment decline for a few years,” said Maria Puzziferro, the university’s interim president.

The school has seen the number of new students enrolling each year shrink by 15 percent for the past three years, a spokeswoman said.

And the university had racked up a net loss of nearly $7.6 million as of June 2015, according to regulatory filings. ...

Some students and city officials had hoped the proposed sale, which became public in May, would save the school from closure. But others felt blindsided by the proposal. Raffles’ record with regulators in Asia raised concerns, and the sale stirred criticism that the university’s owners were not acting transparently.

The deal became bogged down amid scrutiny from regulators and The Higher Learning Commission, the school’s accrediting body.
Given how much money the City of Santa Fe has invested in this project, irrespective of the existence of a cultural master plan, the city should have used risk management planning ("Town-city management: We are all asset managers now") to keep on top of and stay ahead of the problems, to be able to address the situation as proactively as possible, rather than from a reactive position.

At least in this case, the city owns the property.  But loss of rental income and the economic development elements of the school, not to mention its contribution as an anchor of the local cultural ecosystem, and the difficulty of creating a viable new use from scratch puts the city in a bad position.

Me, I would have tried to get an injunction to force the school to continue to accept students for the next academic year, and come up with a way to keep the school open.  More time and options are better than less time and fewer options.

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