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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Drake State planning downtown campus

Recently, Drake State Technical College, in an aggressive attempt to compete with its much larger and more well-known sibling Calhoun, has discussed plans to expand out of its Meridian Street campus and into more visible locations throughout the city. A few months ago, they proposed using the recently closed Stone Middle School on Governors. Now, Drake State has plans to use the Times Building, the 12-story building built in the 1930s at the corner of Holmes and Greene that has been slowly renovated into office space.

Center-city college campuses are a great way to bring mass amounts of people into the core and revitalize the areas surrounding them. Birmingham has UAB, Chattanooga has UTC, and Atlanta has Georgia Tech. The difference between these schools and Drake State is that they have large on-campus populations, whereas Drake is strictly a commuter campus. Having Drake downtown would only bring students during the day and, while significantly increase the daytime population of the CBD, probably wouldn't do much for the full-time population, the number that will bring the retail and entertainment options critical for a successful downtown. To fix that, I think the city should push for more affordable apartments and condos downtown, ones that students from UAH and A&M can afford. Make downtown even more attractive for college students by enhancing transit to the universities. And after enough students (and everyone else) move to downtown, the retail and entertainment will follow.

But back to Drake State. I prefer the Stone Middle School idea; the building already has classrooms and won't need too much renovation, there is room for expansion along Clinton, parking would be less of a hassle, and the area is ripe for revitalization. The Times building doesn't have classrooms, the only way to expand is to lease more space, parking would probably rely on a proposed 5-level public parking garage across the street, and the surrounding neighborhood is much more desirable (which would probably increase lease rates in the future). But if Drake State can manage to do it, I say, go for it.

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