Dec. 12, 2005
President, Oklahoma State University
1600 N. Washington St.
Stillwater, OK 74075
(c.c. to members of the OSU Board of Regents)
Dear President Schmidly,
I would like to offer you some comments and suggestions concerning your proposed OSU Master Plan and campus expansion.
I sent a lengthy e-mail to the Board of Regents on the subject on Nov. 27. In it I explained that I am a 66 year-old lifelong Stillwater resident; my late father was a long-time head of the chemistry department. I am an OSU graduate, have lived within a few blocks of the campus all my life, and have owned and operated the well-known Hideaway Pizza restaurant on Campus Corner since 1960. I have employed literally thousands of OSU students over the last 45 years, enjoy a higher income when athletic teams are successful and attendance booms, and I bleed orange.
However, I told the regents that I agree with mayor Bud Lacy that OSU’s handling, so far, of its long range Master Plan has been a public relations disaster. Although my home, (about six blocks south of you in Washington Heights), is not in the proposed expansion area, it is close enough for me to be concerned. I have attended virtually all the public meetings on the subject: the initial Cinnabar Company meeting in the alumni center for residents of the expansion area, the City of Stillwater forum at the library at which you fielded questions, two meetings of residents at the Hillcrest Baptist church, a City Commission meeting, a Stillwater Neighborhood Alliance meeting, and the Regents meeting at Langston. I have read carefully all of the newspaper publicity on the subject, starting with the initial announcement in the Stillwater newspaper and continuing through the deluge of letters to the editor and official OSU statements on the topic. I have studied the Benham company maps and vision for the future at length, and have had conversations with three of the Stakeholders who participated in the formulation of the Master Plan. With this background, I would like to make the following suggestions:
1. SLOW DOWN! Take at least six months more, if not a year, to carefully consider and rethink all the possibilities and ramifications of your long range Master Plan. Publicly solicit input on the topics which have been infuriating the community: condemnation of property, disruption of traffic patterns, reduction of economical student housing, impacting of retirement income for the elderly, effect upon the tax base, school system, and city of Stillwater finances, etc..
2. COMMUNICATE! You admitted yourself at the library meeting that this has been inadequate. Open up! Let the public know what is happening, and why! The statement read by attorney Ray Wall to the Regents at Langston demanded that OSU cease development “north of Hall of Fame”. Many of the people who helped create that statement didn’t stop to realize that the university has already developed a great deal of property north of Hall of Fame, including Bennett Hall, the baseball and softball fields, the Wes Watkins center, and a lot of parking lots. Why not print a map in the paper showing what property OSU already has north of Hall of Fame, including the 37 properties to be acquired under the contract with the Bond family? You have stated that OSU has already acquired 40% of the property between Hall of Fame and McElroy. I would like to see a map of those acquisitions. Publishing such a map would show people that the “OSU Land Grab” is not as extensive as some seem to feel.
3. RETHINK THE NORTHERN BOUNDARY OF THE “ATHLETIC VILLAGE”. This is a major consideration. You have already identified the area north of McElroy as a “5-20 year” long-range acquisition project. Do you really need it at all? I know the major highlight of the proposed athletic village is an indoor practice facility. Fine. Build it on the property you already have–as close to Pickens Stadium and Gallagher-Iba as possible. But do you really need a running track, soccer stadium, and indoor and outdoor tennis facilities as close to the stadium and G-I as possible also, when they are still going to be 4 to 7 blocks north? These are going to be low-usage, space gobbling facilities in what is now a heavily populated neighborhood. Why not build them 6-8 blocks to the west, north and west of the Colvin Center? True, your “athletic village” would then be strung out in an east-west rectangle along Hall of Fame, rather than being a more compact square shape with Hall of Fame cutting through the middle. But look at the advantages: You would be reducing the amount of property you would need to acquire, building more on current OSU property. You would be reducing the loss of affordable student housing. And you would not be displacing most of the long-time residents whom you have recently thrown into such turmoil. At one local meeting I heard that of the 45 owner-occupied homes among the 410 properties OSU wanted to acquire, 42 were north of McElroy and 3 were south. At the library meeting you stated that four were south of McElroy. Whatever. Doesn’t that tell you that there is a natural break at McElroy between almost all rental property and a lot of owner-occupied homesteads? Stop at McElroy and you would reduce many of the concerns mentioned above: condemnation of propery, loss of tax base, affordable housing, impact on Will Rogers School, city utility revenue, etc..
4. TRY TO ERASE THE WORDS “EMINENT DOMAIN” FROM YOUR VOCABULARY AND THE MINDS OF THE STILLWATER PUBLIC.
Nothing terrifies people more than the thought of forcible eviction. The OSU Foundation made a terrible mistake hiring those thugs from Cinnabar to come in and strong-arm residents. You MUST try to repair this damage somehow. I would suggest, once again, that going public and communicating yourself is the only solution. Stress voluntary acquisition of property. Make it crystal clear that OSU does NOT want to use eminent domain and will ONLY do so as a last resort. Give the public as lenient a timetable as you possibly can, perhaps guaranteeing that OSU will NOT exercise eminent domain for at least five years south of McElroy and 15 years north of McElroy, if at all. Or, alternatively, guarantee that OSU will not exercise eminent domain unless you already own 95% of the property within a certain radius from a desired property. Making guarantees or pledges of this nature is the only way you can restore the public’s faith in OSU’s overall good intentions!
5. WORK WITH RENTAL PROPERTY OWNERS WHO DO NOT WANT TO SELL by finding equivalent rental properties to trade them. A major point of concern, both for live-in owners and rental owners, is that “fair market value” would not allow them to replace their current property. “Replacement value” is the rallying cry here, and it is a fair, equitable, and reasonable goal. Do not blacken the name of OSU for decades by trying to “lowball” people with your offers now. Be not only fair but even generous–do what is morally and ethically right, not just what is legally permissable.
6. FORGET ABOUT PERMANENT CLOSURE OF HALL OF FAME. As far as I can tell, this has never been an officially stated goal of OSU, but simply an off-hand suggestion by Mike Holder. It is a terrible idea, which would disrupt traffic flow immensely, as it is now. You should not even need to keep it closed during phase three of the stadium project, as you have suggested. Surely there is enough room on the south side parking lot, and to the west of the stadium, to allow for phase three while restoring normal traffic flow on Hall of Fame.
President Schmidly, please consider these suggestions. I share your vision of a great and gloriously expanded campus and improved university in the future. I remember the campus of my childhood, before the student union was built and when Washington street ran right through the center of campus, before the library was built. I remember seeing quonset huts spring up like mushrooms as enrollment skyrocketed right after world war II. Then I watched those quonsets slowly replaced by beautiful brick structures over the next 50 years. My entire life has been one of watching the campus expand and grow. I want to continue to watch that expansion, but it must be done right–not by running roughshod over the wishes of the community, the faculty, and the student body.
I would love to communicate further with you, the Benham Company, or anyone else about the future of OSU and the OSU Master Plan..
Richard H. Dermer
1121 W. Eskridge Place
Stillwater, OK 74075