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CSCC President Shares Ideas on Urban Development

Walker Evans Walker Evans
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Columbus State Community College is the largest community college in the state of Ohio with over 30,000 enrolled students. To put things in perspective, that’s nearly half the size of The Ohio State University’s 64,000 students. Many of Columbus State’s students attend classes at the Downtown campus, which sits on 80 acres located in the Discovery District.

Dr. David Harrison was selected as the new President of CSCC in 2010 and is already hard at work managing the future of the school. We recently sat down with Dr. Harrison to discuss the role CSCC plays as a neighbor to the rest of Downtown Columbus, and what type of vision the leadership of the school has for creating a better students environment within the new “Creative Campus”.

Walker Evans: Quite a bit has changed at the CSCC campus since I graduated in 2003… the new bookstore building was added, as was the Center for Workforce Development. Almost every quarter we’re seeing announcements about enrollment hitting record high numbers. Do you see the densification of the Downtown campus playing a part in the growing enrollment?

Dr. David Harrison: Our role Downtown is really important. The development across Cleveland Avenue over the past few years has been vital. I’ve been here since July 2010, so I’m still figuring out what all of those connection points are. There’s a lot happening all around us. We’ve got the I-71/670 interchange work that’s going on, the caps over Spring Street and Long Street… all of that is happening adjacent to our campus so we want to make sure that we’re part of those discussions. I know you’ve written about the Creative Campus partnership with CCAD, the Columbus Museum of Art, State Auto and others. It only makes sense that we work together to make this part of the city more pedestrian friendly, more bike friendly, greener, and look for ways that we can share services.

We’re bringing a lot of students here everyday, and from a Downtown perspective, the more that we can provide those students in terms of retail and other amenities, the better. We need to provide things that students need if they are going to stay Downtown and be a part of Downtown instead of just driving here, taking classes and driving home. So we are trying to figure out what those connection points are and we’re trying to launch a master planning process to really look at that over a ten year period and decide where we want to grow to best serve our students.

WE: I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed to see the demolition of the old Cadillac Motor Building two years ago, only for it to become more student parking. Do you know what the long-term land use for that site is? Or will that be determined by the upcoming master plan?

DH: Columbus State doesn’t own that land. Germain still owns that and is creating a parking structure that we will lease for awhile. But yeah, we’re one of the bigger land owners Downtown… probably the biggest along Long Street, and it is all surface parking lots. We want to be closer to Downtown in terms of our interaction, but our students still have to walk through two blocks of parking lots to get into Downtown. So there is a proximity issue that we are trying to get through. That’s why our relationship with the other creative campus partners is important, because if we can collaborate on things like structured parking, then we could use the land that we own that we are using for surface parking in other ways. That’s something that is really going to be a big part of the master planning process.

I think that the new 70/71 “caps” over Spring Street and Long Street will play a substantial role in terms of nearby retail opportunities. And that matters to us. The Kind Lincoln District is our direct neighbor to the east and hopefully with the caps and the interchange changes here, I-71 will become invisible. The reach into that community is really important to us, so again that is what the master plan process will help us figure out.

WE: I spoke with Keith Myers of MSI Design about a year ago on the topic of the Creative Campus and the 2010 Downtown Development plan. MSI helped with some of the planning and facilitation of that plan. Keith mentioned that one component of the Creative Campus could be some sort of shared parking facility between CSCC, CCAD, State Auto Insurance and the Columbus Museum of Art. Besides parking, do you see any other sorts of opportunities for CSCC to play a leadership role in that part of the Downtown Development Plan, or in other parts of the plan such as making streetscapes more friendly to retail or pedestrians?

DH: A vision that we all share is to think and act collectively. I’m bringing students down here every day and every night, so is CCAD, State Auto is bringing employees down here every day, the Columbus Museum of Art is bringing people down in the evenings and weekends, all of those folks need to eat and they all need different types of other amenities. If we had amenities for them, what kind of energy might that create here?

So instead of us looking at, for example, what are the bookstore needs, or the retail needs, or food service needs for our 30,000 students, we need to have those same conversations with the partners in the Creative Campus. I say all of the time that I’m bringing a lot of Starbucks drinkers down here every day… some one ought to be able to open a coffee shop and make some money. CCAD has the same issue. State Auto is trying to reach a younger demographic in the workforce. The kind of technology workers that are required in the insurance industry now are perhaps different than it was in the past, so to create a destination for knowledge workers is something that appeals to all of us. It’s a real natural partnership. I think CSCC was a little late to the original discussion around a shared parking garage between CCAD, State Auto and the Museum, but we actually a meeting on that coming up next week to talk about taking that to the next step. This partnership is an interesting group if you think about it. A large corporation, a large community college, a private art school and a freshly-renovated art museum. It’s pretty exciting for this side of Downtown.

WE: One of the things that Keith Myers said in our interview is that he thinks that Columbus does public-private partnerships better than any other city in the country. He seemed pretty confident that getting the right people together and putting differences aside to get what is needed done and work collectively is something that can very realistically happen.

DH: it seems to be the case. I had not lived in Columbus before, but it sure seems like a town that gets things done in the kinds of partnerships we’re talking about.

WE: One of the big things missing from the Discovery District area right now is the residential component. Columbus State is a commuter school, but almost out of necessity. There really aren’t a lot of places for people to live within walking distance.

I want to share with you a comment from Mike Brown of Experience Columbus, and formerly Urban Ventures Coordinator for Mayor Michael Coleman’s Office. Mike said the following in May of 2010 in response to an announcement about CSCC’s $944M annual economic impact and the lack of nearby student housing options:

“It is against some state law for a two-year community college to build dorms, but there are other options. CSCC is a major property owner and the land is vastly underused. Many people (including conversations from City Hall) have advocated that CSCC or its foundation could create a partnership with a private developer to build several needed parking garages, hidden by street level retail/office and hundreds of upper level apartments. This would increase density and fulfill goals of the new downtown plan. The City would love to sit down with CSCC to put together a plan connecting the area to the rest of the Discovery District and bringing it to life.”

Is this something you have thought about in terms of where students would live, or how a public-private partnership could work to meet those needs?

DH: (laughs) Sounds like Mike Brown needs to do our Master Plan!

WE: (laughs) I’m sure he’d love to be involved!

DH: We do have students with housing needs. I don’t know if this is the best time for Columbus State to get into the housing business. We really could only do it through a partnership. But, the vision that Mike articulated is one that we’ve talked about, especially in early meetings with the Mayor. I know Long Street development is a priority for him. For Columbus State to develop something along Long Street would change the center of gravity of this campus, bringing us closer to Downtown. That’s something that I’m interested in doing. The interesting thing is, if you talk to students a little bit about what’s going on – Columbus itself is a real draw for young people in Ohio who want to stay in Ohio. It’s the one place in our state that’s growing. Ninety percent of our graduates stay in the Columbus area.

So, if we can connect our students in a more thoughtful way, and also keep them here, that’s something I think benefits all of us. I came here from the University of Central Florida, and during the time I was down there, there was a big emphasis on building more student housing on campus and everything that they did was through partnerships with developers.

(Click here for enlarged PDF map of the Creative Campus proposal)

WE: I heard that you were one of the first people to sign on for the new Consider Biking 2 by 2012 Program and that you are a big bike advocate. One other component of the 2012 Downtown Business Plan and something that Capital Crossroads in also working on for the core Central Business District is to produce improved bike station infrastructure for bike commuters. Do you see any opportunity for Columbus State to implement some sort of sheltered bike parking facility that could include lockers, showers or other amenities?

DH: It’s definitely something that we’re going to consider for both our students and our employees. We have a lot of employees who bike to work and some of them come great distances. One of the first conversations I had with a student when I got here was that he loved Columbus State, but really wish we did more for bikers. One of the ways we can work to solve the parking problem and reduce the need for surface parking lots is to really connect ourselves in a smart way to mass transportation. What little I do know about what the City is thinking about in terms of bike depots is something we’d want to connect directly with. Again, I think this is a Creative Campus opportunity where we can look holistically at the various partners on this end of town and do this together.

WE: It is pretty obvious that Columbus State values the role that small businesses and entrepreneurs play in the community through the partnership with the Small Business Development Center at the Center for Workforce Development. There’s been a lot of emphasis, both nationally and regionally, on various type of business incubators. Do you see any opportunity for a business incubation facility that could tie into existing programs at Columbus State? For example, a kitchen or food systems incubator that ties into the culinary and hospitality program?

DH: I have some familiarity with business incubator programs. The University of Central Florida had one of the largest incubators in the country. I think our role would be a broader partnership in that space either with TechColumbus or other local groups. We play a little bit of a different role in that regard. The assets that we bring to the table are the job training and preparation components in addition to the SBDC type of services. But you do bring up a good point… there are a couple of key areas of excellence. Our Culinary Program is one that already has a deep partnership with the food service industry here in Columbus. Our Automotive Technology program is another. There are some medical programs that would fit into that category as well. Our IT and Integrated Media already have a good connection with TechColumbus and the incubation program there.

We definitely want to be involved in small business development and the incubation of emerging businesses. I think our best strategy is to do that in a broader partnership with the broader community.

WE: We recently completed our latest demographic survey on Columbus Underground and found that 76% of our readers fall between the ages of 22 and 40. Primarily a “post-college” audience, but we regularly find people looking for information on continued education through topical classroom opportunities. Are there any opportunities for that audience in what is offered at Columbus State?

DH: The quick answer is yes. There are vast resources here at the college. Columbus State is a real asset to this region. I think we’re at a really good point now where we can take the assets that we have and start to point them at different needs for different students. We are the largest online learning provider in the state of Ohio. So how do we take all of those courses and really target those into programs that working adults and others can count on to earn a degree in a discreet period of time. How do we serve our role as a bridge for students either to a high paying job or continuing a bachelor’s program in a way that is really easy to connect. I think there are some ways that we can connect with your readers in a different way than what we do with an 18-year-old college freshman who is looking for more of a residential college experience. That’s kind of where we are in terms of our own planning right now. How do we differentiate our brand identity so that we don’t lose focus on student access and student success but make that meaningful to different students who have different needs. We need to be making sure that the various portals that students access are differentiated based on where they are and the needs in their lives.

WE: Anything else you’d like to add?

DH: Another element to the Creative Campus partnership, is our partnership with other colleges and universities. It is going to be more important than ever going forward. Our partnership with Franklin University is great and we want to continue to develop that. Over the next several months we are going to be talking about our series of partnerships with Ohio State that we are working through right now. I recently had a meeting with Ohio Wesleyen’s president and we are working to develop connections there. Helping folks understand how all of that fits together is really going to be a lot of fun. I didn’t know this coming in, but Columbus is the second largest “college city” in America. And Columbus State the only open-access partner in that mix. Which means that we are the front door to higher education for most families in Columbus. Getting that message out and making sure that folks understand various pathways to wherever they’re headed is something that is very important.

More information about Columbus State Community College can be found online at CSCC.edu.

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