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Community leaders discuss ‘town-gown relations’

Posted: October 5, 2009 - 10:41pm

The Arkansas Deans’ Association held its annual meeting Monday at Hendrix College. The event began with a discussion of “town-gown relations.”

Jerry Adams of the Arkansas Research Alliance, Scott Schallhorn, vice president and general counsel for Hendrix, and Conway Mayor Tab Townsell discussed ways that Conway and its local colleges have worked together to form good relationships.

Adams, who worked for Acxiom Corp. for many years, said relationships between schools and corporations are very important. Acxiom experienced chaos from numerous requests from schools for speakers and assistance, he said. The company established a relationship team and asked that schools do likewise in order to efficiently address the requests of the schools.

“In your communities, you need to be very intentional about where the intersection is with the corporate communities. I think that intentionality is very important,” he said.

Adams noted multicampus collaboration can be difficult when there are school rivalries involved, but corporate citizens can moderate and promote a stronger world view. He noted it is important for Arkansas colleges to work together for Arkansas to compete with other states.

Schallhorn told the visiting deans about The Village at Hendrix, the mixed-use development being built on Harkrider Street in the New Urbanism style. He noted the four-story buildings that will include retail on the bottom floor and student housing on the top three floors as well as various homes being built and other features. He also alluded to the construction on Harkrider Street that will include two roundabouts.

“Harkrider is the perfect example of town and gown coming together, doing something good,” he said. 

Before The Village was planned, there was a proposal to widen Harkrider and add a turn lane. He said the school was concerned about students crossing the highway, because motorists would go faster once the road was wider. The college proposed a more pedestrian-friendly solution with roundabouts on the north and south, he said. 

“This wasn’t accepted with open arms,” he said, noting Hendrix invested in a traffic study that determined a roundabout in a comparable city handles “massive volumes of traffic.” 

He added the vote on the roundabout was a tie, and the mayor cast the tie-breaking vote.

Schallhorn also pointed out that The Village did not conform to city codes, but the city council voted to create an overlay district to create it because leaders saw the potential benefit to the city. Subsequently, he said, Southwestern Energy decided to locate its headquarters in The Village.

“City leadership must understand what higher education institutions can do for the city,” he said. 

Townsell said at meetings of mayors, he typically hears about antagonistic relationships between cities and colleges. He said that is not the case in Conway because “We understand who we are. A college town is a different animal ... Particularly in this decade we’ve come to that understanding.”

Conway has the third highest percentage of college graduates of any city in the state, he said. Being a college town is a benefit and an economic development issue, he said, because Conway can seek out higher paying jobs, he said.

Townsell said Conway’s colleges were an asset in recruiting Hewlett-Packard to town. HP officials were only in town twice before the announcement was made, he said, and the first time they visited, they stayed only 45 minutes. One of the places they saw on their whirlwind tour was the University of Central Arkansas. 

The cultural aspects that colleges provide is another thing that helped attract HP, Townsell said. For example, he said, ArtsFest, which is scheduled for this week, is “entirely driven, structured and populated by the colleges.” 

(Staff writer Rachel Parker Dickerson can be reached by e-mail at rachel.dickerson@thecabin.net or by phone at 505-1277. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit

 

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