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VALLEY PERSPECTIVE | SECOND OPINION

It's Time to Develop CSUN Site

University MarketCenter, proposed for the North Campus, will provide funds needed to serve a rising tide of students.

March 09, 1997|BLENDA J. WILSON | Blenda J. Wilson is president of Cal State Northridge

"The major test of a modern American university is how wisely and how quickly it adjusts to important new possibilities," Clark Kerr once said.

Kerr, the legendary former president of the UC system and a founding father of the California Master Plan for Higher Education, would be the first to understand the big idea behind Cal State Northridge's plans to develop an upscale retail center on campus.

First, recall the master plan. It was essentially a promise by the California Legislature in 1960 to ensure affordable access to higher education for all Californians based on their abilities. If you attended the University of California, California State University or a California community college in the '60s, '70s or '80s, you directly and personally benefited from the plan.

The compact kept fees low so that the maximum number of deserving Californians could benefit from a higher education. The entire state benefited from well-educated citizens who nourished the aerospace and defense industries as well as the business, entertainment, financial and technology industries.

Then came the recession of the early 1990s, which brought budget cuts for higher education and escalating college fees. Thousands of students with the grades and ability to benefit from higher education were priced out of our state's colleges and universities and tens of thousands found the classes they needed were not being offered due to budget cuts.

California's economic problems and budget crises have only recently subsided, and we are on our way to economic recovery. But the days of Clark Kerr's master plan and $5-per-credit-hour fees are gone forever.

Californians now face a new, extraordinary challenge.

A huge second wave of young, ambitious, pre-college students is bearing down on California. Kerr calls it "Tidal Wave II." They are the children of baby boomers, and they want to go to college, just as their parents did in the '60s, '70s and '80s.

They will overwhelm our current capacities.

Every authoritative analysis of future funding for higher education predicts that over the next 10 years the share of the state's general fund monies allocated to higher education will decline from about 10% of the total to 5% or less. The share allocated to prisons and corrections will likely more than double, from 9% of the total to 21%. That scenario, or something similar, is virtually inevitable.

For education, the formula for future funding is simple: Enrollments will increase and our share of general revenues will decline. Sharply, on both counts.

We see three common-sense strategies to begin to bridge this gap: We can increase student fees, and we may be forced to do so; we can increase our efforts to raise private gifts and grants, and we have; and we can enter into public / private partnerships such as University MarketCenter to convert idle assets into stable sources of revenue.

We propose to enter into a long-term lease (50 years) with a private developer, Hopkins Real Estate Group of Newport Beach, for 20 acres of land on our 65-acre North Campus. The firm would build a 220,000-square-foot upscale shopping center that would yield the university about $1 million a year at virtually no risk.

One million dollars is approximately equal to the annual usable yield of a conservatively invested endowment of $15 million. After nearly 40 years of existence, Cal State Northridge has accumulated an endowment of slightly less than $16 million.

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The proposed University MarketCenter would support our educational programs in three ways: The $1 million a year yield on the lease could support our rapidly evolving educational needs; it would create about 350 jobs, many for students and their spouses to help pay for their education; and it would provide opportunities for internships, teaching, research and public service activities through collaborative agreements with MarketCenter tenants.

We believe this project will complement and enhance the current business environment of Northridge. We understand the importance of communicating with and listening to our neighbors and our own internal constituencies. We have held dozens of meetings to explain our plans to community groups and the public.

In response to many of the concerns and suggestions we have heard, the developer has agreed to alter his plans by enhancing architectural and landscaping aesthetics and mitigating the effects of increased traffic and noise. These are bona fide concerns and we are addressing them.

We also believe this development could bring new business into our community and, perhaps more importantly, retain business being lost to other upscale developments in places such as Thousand Oaks, Pasadena and Santa Monica.

We are committed to forming a university / community advisory committee to study and recommend non-retail uses and potential facility developments for the remaining 45 acres of North Campus.

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