Town and Gown conference explained

James Heggen

Representatives from cities and universities from across the country will traveled to Ames for the 5th Annual Best Practices in Building University/City Relations Conference. The conference was held June 1-3, and was put on by the International Town and Gown Association.

Jami Larson, Ames City Council member, said the conference grew out of luncheons at the National League of Cities meetings. He said at these luncheons, cities that had universities in them would meet to discuss the common problems and opportunities faced by having a college or university.

Eventually, it was decided enough cities have universities in them and that a separate group would be formed. It began with this conference, and eventually the association was formed, too, he said.

Many different issues have been discussed, such as economic development, campus violence and partnering and promoting diversity, Larson said.

Sheila Lundt, assistant Ames city manager, said the size of the universities coming vary greatly, so they tried to plan and provide sessions for everyone. Some of the session topics include law enforcement cooperation, move-out recycling and economic development and transportation, among others.

Two years ago, Larson and Steve Schainker, Ames city manager, went to the town and gown conference in College Station, Texas. They attended a session put on by Michigan State University about Campustown redevelopment. There, they met a developer who had experience in this type of project.

“That’s kind of what spurred, along with GSB’s interest in doing something relating to Campustown, our ability to go out and find developers that could bid on the project that it is now … looks like it’s going to move forward,” Larson said.

Although the developer Ames is using, Lane 4 Property Group, Inc., isn’t the developer Michigan State used for its project, the session got them started.

“[The current project] really came out of one of the sessions we attended a couple of years ago at Texas A&M,” Larson said.

Lundt and Larson said the ability to talk to other cities and universities facing the same types of issues makes doing the job in Ames easier.

“I think it makes [the] writing of our ordinances and codes a lot easier when you can call other people that have already been through it,” Larson said.

Lundt said the city has made an effort to get student involvement in the presentations, with many students giving presentations or helping out with the planning of different sessions at the conference.