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Today is the last day of classes for the spring semester at TU, so it’s probably a good time to review the last year in Town & Gown relations.

 

Homecoming tailgate – After the 2007 fiasco that spilled into the community, Towson administrators did what they could to squelch and problems (and fun) from the event. There were significantly less people attending the annual tailgate. Presumably there was less underage drinking and parties in the community still occurred, but from reports, weren’t any worse than last year. And that’s all we can ask for, right?

 

 Crime in the bar district – Alcohol related incidents continued to increase this year. As of the fall, public intoxication, underage drinking, fake IDs, public urination and DUI had all increased in the bar district among Towson students. The community gripes that those caught are just a few of the offenders as many drunken students make their way back to houses in the residential neighborhoods. The University tells community members that they should call 911 and the Towson Life Line for assistance. Neighbors haven’t and won’t be satisfied with either response.

  

The Great Arena Battle – Beginning at the end of January, Rodgers Forge made it very clear that they did NOT want the University to expand the Towson Center in the manner that was planned. Noise and parking were the two biggest complaints. The key problem, though, was the lack of communication. RF residents found out about the plans through the Baltimore Sun and/or trees being ripped out from behind their houses at 8 a.m. on New Years Eve. After two closed-door meetings, the sides agreed on moving the site to the opposite side of the Arena. It meant more costs for Towson, but relieving the headache was worth it. That’s one expensive Tylenol. The sides signed an MOU. We’ll see how long it lasts.

  

That’s part one in my review series. Check back for more tidbits on Tigerfest and rental properties.

About a month ago when I sat down with Nancy Hafford from the Towson Chamber, she said that Forbes Magazine’s latest listing of the nation’s “Most Livable” cities included Towson.

Really? That’s what I said.

Just looked it up. She was partially correct. Towson is lumped in as “Baltimore/Towson,” which is an interesting pairing nonetheless. TU has billed itself for the last few years at a “Metropolitan” University, pumping up its association with the city and its abundance of resources.

Fact is, Towson is minutes from the city line and students do get a chance to take advantage of some of its greatest opportunities; both professionally and socially.

The social aspect is obvious. When uptown is too small town for a party-loving student, he/she can head downtown to the Inner Harbor. Professionally, though, TU has taken full advantage of partnerships with major businesses in Baltimore and the students have benefited from that as well. Internship and job placement opportunities remain strong in Baltimore despite the recession.

While Towson surely loves the fact that they are considered among the “Most Livable” places in the nation, I don’t know how much they’d appreciate the pairing. Baltimore can also be synonymous with crime, traffic, drug abuse and general unrest.

I guess it’s a situation where it depends on how you see the glass: Half empty or half full?

I’m finishing up some projects, preparing for finals, just like the rest of Towson’s student body. Tigerfest has passed, as has the Towsontown Festival. The academic year is winding to a close and I’m sure the local neighborhoods couldn’t be happier.

It’s been proven through police reports that as the summer heats up, the town of Towson cools off. Students move home between semesters, out of the apartment complexes and out of the residential communities. This means that there will be more parking spaces on neighborhood streets.

While the spring semester is often one of the busiest for Towson Citizens on Patrol as they drive the neighborhoods looking for trouble, especially on Tigerfest Weekend, May tends to be a rather quiet month.

The community pushed for, and received, more classes on Friday mornings because, in theory, fewer students will party Thursday night if they have to get up early the next day. It’s slower in May for the same reason. As I said before, when you have three 10-page research papers and two finals to cram for, there isn’t much time to pee on your next door neighbors yard, slash their tires, or abduct their children (obviously hyperbolic, but I can never be sure).

Any day now, the University will be releasing the results of the most recent phase of the Master Plan update process. For the last few months, representatives from Facilities Management have been meeting with stakeholders on and off campus to gather feedback, and those findings will be posted on the University’s Web site.

Every five years, the University System of Maryland requires each campus to revisit its Master Plan. This is different from the TU 2010 Plan. The Master Plan aims to outline long term construction goals for the campus. Major components of TU’s Master Plan is the continued development of the West Village housing complex, the completion of the new College of Liberal Arts complex and the creation of the campus’s “new front door” along Towsontown Boulevard.

With the information that is provided in the report presented in the next week, the decision makers within the University administration will determine any changes, no matter how minor they may be, to the Master Plan. I really don’t expect to see any shocking alterations. West Village and CLA will continue to go up, Smith Hall will still be renovated and a plaza will be opened up along Towsontown Boulevard.

This is still just one step in the grand process. President Caret and his team will present the results of the Master Plan update in the fall to the USM Board of Regents. By then, we’ll have a more clear idea of what campus may look like during the next 10-15 years.

There may be a disagreement over who should take credit for the idea, but, honestly, it doesn’t matter. The University is beginning an off-campus ambassadors pilot program this summer.

The pilot will begin in Burkleigh Square, a small neighborhood off of York Road that has been hit particularly hard by students moving into single-family homes. Carol Galladian, TU’s coordinator for off-campus student services, is taking applications and trying to recruit students for the program.

In short, the students will be expected to serve as liaisons between the University, the community and the students living off campus. It has been consistently iterated that they are NOT RA’s. They will hold no judicial power and will not be expected to snitch on trouble houses.

Back to the first point I made here: Who gets to take credit for this program? A few months ago at a GTCCA meeting, Marina Cooper from TU mentioned the program during her report. Shortly after she finished, Ed Kilcullen, GTCCA prez responded quickly, and rather harshly, accusing Marina of “not doing her homework” for taking responsibility for coming up with the idea for the program. When Marina asked Ed to speak with him after the meeting if there was any confusion, he continued.

It’s pretty simple, and I discussed this in my last post. This really needs to stop being an “Us vs. Them” situation. Does Marina taking credit for the idea stop disruptive behavior in the communities? Does Ed getting credit stop students from urinating in his street outside his home in Towson Manor Village? It does neither.

Cooperation is the only thing that will solve this problem with both sides walking away with some level of success. The ambassadors are coming, no matter who thought if it first.

My article about how Tigerfest impacted the community over the weekend will be in Thursday’s issue of The Towerlight, so check that out when it hits the site and stands in the next 24 hours. In the mean time, I’ll give you a sneak peak about something concerning that I heard this afternoon. There are two distinctly different perceptions of how Tigerfest went this year. Marina Cooper from the University President’s office was the point person for all complaints coming from the communities. She didn’t get any. Not a single one, she said. No calls. No voicemails. No e-mails. Nothing. Then I talked to Matt Parlakian, a Towson Citizens on Patrol organizer and Burkleigh Square homeowner. He said there were parties all along the York Road corridor, and while the police were quicker than in years passed in responding, the disturbances did persist. I told him that Marina said she hadn’t heard anything from any neighbors about problems. Matt said that most of the community may just be tired of their complaints not being heard by the University. This is a problem. There have been so many major strides made in the last academic year. The University has repeatedly met with community reps. VP for student affairs Deb Moriarty told me Monday that she feels that her job has shifted more from on-campus student concerns to off-campus in the last few years. Marina Cooper’s predecessors were mostly PR reps, writing press releases, taking calls from media, etc. Marina, though, has been put at the center of trying to solve some of the major issues taking place between the two sides. If neighbors are asking for the University to be responsive, and Marina’s number and e-mail is circulated throughout the communities in order to have that direct contact instead of a flawed Student Life Line, then they need to call her. If the perception is that the calling the University is a waste of time, then nothing will ever be solved. The last year has been based on trying to fix communication. Communication goes both ways. If Marina & Co. is expected to notify the community of major changes across campus, then they must make their concerns be heard in places other than town hall meetings. Muttering under your about all of those awful Towson students won’t solve anything.

Tigerfest is here. While there have been some whispers that there may still be some kinks to iron out of the All American Rejects’ contract, the show is expected to go on. It’s almost noon, so I’m sure there are parties that have already started rolling, hopefully not raging. Today was made for Tigerfest. The sun is bright, the weather is warm and, at least according to weather.com, there won’t be any surprise thunder storms that break up the end of the show and prevent an encore as Mother Nature did last year. Can anybody verbalize just how awesome a Roots encore would have been? Ah well, no more living in 2008. Things I’m looking forward to today:

1) I’ve already mentioned the weather, but this can’t be made clear enough. When planning an outdoor festival, the weather is always an unknown variable and in the past it’s hurt the show. While Dashboard Confessional ruined the show enough just by being there, the fact that it was overcast and miserable all day didn’t help. 85 degrees and sunny. I love it.

2) A fun send-off. I’m going to be officially a Towson graduate in exactly one month. While there are still a few assignments I need to complete, a few blog posts I still need to write, and then the whole walking the stage thing, to many students Tigerfest is a symbol for completing another year. As I wrote about in my most recent Towerlight column, this is my last Tigerfest as a student. I’d like it to be a good one.

3) Seeing some old friends. Tigerfest is probably a bigger event for alumni than Homecoming. This goes for more recent alumni at least. I was the youngest members of the TL Editorial Board for a while, and now that I’m about to graduate, all of my closest friends from the staff have moved on. All American Rejects is a big enough name to bring back a bunch of recent grads from along the East Coast. I’m sure this goes along with every student.

4) Believe it or not, I’m actually looking forward to seeing the Rejects. I’ve never followed the act, but I’ve heard a few of their catchy pop hits. They are sing-a-long types that I really think the crowd can get behind. Anybody that has been to a concert can tell you just how important it is for the crowd to really be into the songs and know the performers’ work. It’s why the crowd is pretty dead for most opening acts but start jumping up and down for the headliner. It’s about familiarity and just about everybody has heard most of All American Rejects hits.

5) It’s going to be great to see the student body come together again. Let me get my cliché line out of the way here. Just like on St. Patrick’s Day, everybody is Irish. On Tigerfest, everybody is a tiger. Towson, while it has improved, rarely comes together. Sports should fill this need, but the teams just haven’t given anybody a reason to make it out to the games. Events like Tigerfest, though, bring everybody out. It’s been on every student’s calendar for weeks.

Just a word of warning to anybody about to read this post. I’m not reporting on any public urination, noise violations, angry neighbors, drunken students, proposed legislation or policy changes. I’m talking about the festival so this post will be as fluffy and cotton candy.
I sat down with Exec. Director for the Towson Chamber Nancy Hafford yesterday. Her office was a whirlwind and if anybody has ever Nancy, they know she’s a twister that’s always spinning. And right now, it’s Towsontown Festival time so her days are more filled than ever. One of (if not THE) largest street festival in the state, the Towsontown Festival brings people by the tens of thousands to the area every spring.
Music, performances and all kinds food vendors will line the streets of uptown Towson. It’s one event that both students and community members enjoy equally.
I’ve been each of my three years as a Towson student and since I’ll have passed the torch to the next Editor in Chief at The Towerlight at that point, I’ll actually be able to get out for the weekend this year and have a good time without having to worry about stories between bites of my dripping wet pit beef sandwich.
I highly recommend anybody within driving distance to make the trek. It’s a great weekend of events and if we are blessed with good weather, there are few better ways to spend a spring day.
That’s my PR post of the semester, controversy free. Every blog needs some fluff now and again. I don’t really like cotton candy, though. I’m more of a funnel cake kind of guy.

Eleven days remain until absolute mayhem. Blood will run through the streets of Towson as Tigerfest begins on Burdick Field.

All right. Blood may be an exageration. Booze is far more likely. And come morning of Sunday April 26, there may be a few knuckleheads on the front lawns of the location of some blowout party that make the rest of the responsible fairgoers seem unreasonable.

I’ve already written one post about Tigerfest, but it was pretty popular, so I’m back again. Here is what some Towson neighbors, including GTCCA president Ed Kilcullen said last year when I talked to them after the TU equivalent to Mardi Gras.

In summary, parties began in the local neighborhoods well before some students finally arrived at the core of campus.

But No Fear, Towson Student Affairs is Here!!! An ad on the second page of Thursday’s edition of The Towerlight gives a few of the numerous rules to remember for a positive Tigerfest. Among them are:

#1 Never leave a Tiger behind. Tigers take care of their own

#5 Never let anything come between you and a responsible Tigerfest

#6 Do not draw negative attention to yourself

I bet these kinds of words of wisdom help neighbors sleep better when there are screaming students marching down the street at 2 a.m. still running long and drunk on their last few Jagerbombs.

As you can tell, I’m not falling on either side of this debate. I fully believe that Tigerfest is a great event, one that the majority of students enjoy responsibly and it should continue as one of the best traditions on campus. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to deal with the noise that some troublemakers cause in Burkleigh Square, Aigburth Manor or Towson Manor Village just to mention a few.

Photo by Patrick Smith, courtesy of Towson Times

Photo by Patrick Smith, courtesy of Towson Times

What would you do if we grabbed a bite to eat a McDonalds. I got a Big Mac, you got a 10-piece chicken McNugget meal. I finished eating and you still have a few nuggets left after devouring all of those delicious fries. You say “I’m going to eat these later.” Then I reach over, grab one and shove it in my mouth. “What? It’s not like you were using it.”

Keep that parable in mind here.

The ink has long dried on the memorandum of understanding between Rodgers Forge and Towson University regarding the plans for the new arena expansion off of the Towson Center, but problems haven’t ended. In an article by Loni Ingraham in the Towson Times this week, the property line where Towson agreed to erect an impenetrable fence at the request of RF is being disputed.

Read Loni’s story and forumulate your own opinion, please, but I can’t help but be a bit confused by the whole situation. As a quick synopsis, Rodgers Forge families have been accessorizing their backyards for years, one of which has been turned into a small community park.

The catch, they were building on University property.

Now, once again, the University is the big bad guy coming in to destroy their beloved park. Maybe before they dropped $20k on the landscaping and such they should have been good neighbors, contacted the University, held several public meetings, talked to their legislators, have closed door meetings, negotiate an agreement and sign an MOU.

I really don’t understand how RF can be upset with Towson for doing what they were instructed to: build a fence. And I can’t comprehend out it’s the University’s fault that RF residents built on their property.

There’s a solution, though. For PR purposes, Towson can’t demolish their park. While it is it bit ridiculous that RF is upset at Towson wanting to use the land that they own, it’s hard to change their minds. They have emotions (and cash) invested in the land. Since Towson isn’t using the land, and since signing the MOU nothing will be built there either, offer to sell the strip of land at a below-market rate to the Rodgers Forge Community Association. Then, invest the money spent on the property into Town & Gown initiatives be it community clean ups or grants to BCPD for an increased presence late on party nights.

Now, I’m sure there are major snags here since it’s state property. If Towson was a private college, they’d have the rights to sell the land, but that’s not the case. This would have to go through years of paperwork from the USM and maybe even the General Assembly. At the same time, Towson may be under state pressure to not allow the neighbors to use the land and take back their property line. If the University turned over rights to the land through some handshake understanding, they could be in hot water with the USM.

Maybe everybody should just keep their hands off your chicken McNuggets