A better marriage between the interests of the city and the university was discussed Friday as Bowling Green Mayor Dick Edwards and Bowling Green State University President Mary Ellen Mazey updated residents on the efforts of the Joint Visioning Task Force.
"If you look at the city and the university, we're working really well on the day-to-day activities, but have never come up with a big picture on where we want to be" in the future, Mazey said of the effort's origins.
Begun in February, the project has been working to enhance collaboration between the two entities. A series of six task force groups focused on Education, Regionalism, Downtown and Economic Development, Infrastructure, Relationship Building, and Neighborhoods and Corridors have been formed, co-chaired by a community member and a university employee. The task forces developed a list of 12 "Short-Term Priorities and Actions," as well as five "Long-Term Goals and Priorities."
The short-term items included such possibilities as increasing the sharing of information between city and university; considering a joint purchasing agreement among BGSU, the city, and BG city schools; creating a tax increment financing district to improve the streetscape along East Wooster; promoting a "good neighbor" program for students; aligning the BGSU and BG schools calendars; and other concepts.
The long term items included developing a bikeway to connect BGSU with the city and the Slippery Elm Trail; assessing the potential of establishing incubators for business, technology and the arts; exploring the idea of an "arts" community that could be tied into economic development; working to reduce energy consumption; and creating ordinances to ensure the enhancement of housing quality and maintenance.
Some of this work is already bearing fruit: the Convention and Visitors Bureau, under Wendy Stramm, is partnering with the university to remodel and help operate the little-used visitor's center on campus, located on East Wooster Street in front of the Doyt Perry Stadium. The center, to be staffed by students, is expected to be up and running after the winter break. Signage issues in that area are also being identified, and the possibility of a joint "Welcome to Bowling Green/BGSU" sign on I-75 is being considered.
However, it was made clear to the audience - made up of approximately 40 residents, elected officials and stakeholders - that the visioning process is just that: a process. Thus far, it has no particular timetable or decisive agenda.
"It's not a grand plan," explained Edwards, "it's not something where you're voting on this or that, other than in the task force groups themselves."
"It's important to realize what this visioning process is and what it isn't," he said later, noting that they are identifying "areas of opportunity" that might enhance the city and the university.
"We have no secrets," Mazey said. "It was a volunteer group." Copies of reports generated by the task force groups are available by contacting the city building, or Mazey's office.
One of the major topics to draw the interest of the audience was concern about vandalism, violence, and what was termed "rioting" in recent months.
At-Large Councilman Sandy Rowland termed the issue the "elephant in the room."
"The elephant we haven't addressed is the damage done to people's properties (in the East Wooster area) and that seems to be something that Bowling Green hasn't been able to wrestle with successfully." She acknowledged that those causing the issues are not necessarily students.
One audience member noted that downtown businesses are frightened to decorate for the holidays because of vandalism.
"That's all I hear, is how pathetic the downtown looks at Christmas time," she said.
Mazey noted the "good neighbor" campaign for the campus which is under consideration, and emphasized that "destructive behavior is certainly not something we would ever condone."
"But," she continued, noting a ride-along she took with city police officers one weekend during the overnight hours, "it's a different city, as John Fawcett would say, from 11 to 2 a.m., than it is at other times."
"Some of it's just culture, and how you have to work with (students) to instill values."
"With our attractiveness as a community, and some of our nightspots, we're attracting more and more out-of-town interest," Edwards said. He further discussed some hopes for development in sectors near the university, including around Courthouse Square.
"Some of the buildings are well over 100 years old, and I'm hoping that the neighbors" in the area will work with the university, the Wood County Historical Center and Museum, the Ohio Historical Society, and other sources, to potentially develop another historic district in that location.
"Now with the campus plan going with opening up the interior of the campus once again, when the old so-called 'Power Tower' comes down again (the campus Administration Building), that whole Court Street area will be an invaluable corridor, I think, but it's going to be lost of we don't work together."
Another public meeting, this time a panel-style forum featuring BGSU employees to be held on campus - is being considered for February.