Officials say moving more of Towson University’s non-academic operations off the school’s campus and into downtown Towson could help spur job growth and economic development.
That’s one of the ideas that will be explored as former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman gets to work as the university’s new chief strategist. The school has hired Ulman’s Margrave Strategies consulting firm to spend four months developing a new plan for university-led economic development in the area.
The first step will be a “deep dive on the data,” looking at the use of office space, where students and faculty live and shop, Ulman told The Daily Record after a news conference Tuesday.
Ulman and U3 Advisors, a consulting firm focusing on economic development that’s also been retained by Towson, have been working on as similar effort in College Park, which has included developing an “innovation district” to house both established and emerging tech companies who can benefit from close ties to the UMD campus.
Officials say “placemaking” is one of the key goals of the Towson University effort — but part of Ulman’s job will be to determine the specifics of what that will mean.
“It’s not one thing, it’s not one building, it’s all of it put together,” Ulman said. “It could be having startup companies, having great coffee shops and bookstores, and being a place where faculty and staff choose to live.”
But doing it properly — and acting as a catalyst for economic development — takes a strategy, he said. That could involve plans for pedestrian and transit access from the campus to downtown, and will require officials to consider whether campus facilities such as the hotel and conference center are being used to their full potential, Ulman said.
One item to consider is whether the university’s bookstore should continue to be housed at the student union on campus or whether it should move off-campus, where it might anchor a redeveloped block, he said.
“That’s the data were going to be unearthing and the questions we’re going to be asking,” Ulman said.
One of the questions officials want Ulman to help answer is what non-academic operations could be moved elsewhere, Towson University President Kim Schatzel said Tuesday.
“I’m running out of academic space, so I need to be able to take a look at locations [where] I can move certain functions off-campus,” Schatzel said.
Schatzel said that university — the third-largest employer in Baltimore County — wanted to find ways to enhance its contribution to the region’s economic prosperity.
“We have tremendous impact and influence on Towson as well the county and Greater Baltimore. We want to be more deliberate about partnering on that,” Schatzel said.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said the county’s plans to revitalize downtown Towson have always included expanding the university into the downtown area. By bringing Ulman on board, the university was moving that process forward, he said.
“We are excited that the university is going to devise a strategy to achieve those results,” Kamenetz said.
The university was striving to become a good neighbor to the broader Towson community, and Schatzel understands that the community will have a seat at the table, Kamenetz said.
The public will have several opportunities to weigh in on the effort, including at an economic outlook forum scheduled to be held at the university on Nov. 16, officials said.
Recent development projects in downtown Towson have included the $85 million Towson Square, anchored by the Cinemark movie theater, which opened in July 2014, and the $350 million Towson Row development, on which construction began in 2015. That project is slated to include office space, a hotel, student housing, luxury apartments and retail space anchored by a Whole Foods store.