Location alone does not make a town with a college a "college town."
You can have the greatest university in the world, and the greatest town surrounding that university; but if you don't have true collaboration between the two, then building a truly great college town just isn't possible.
That's according to Chad Goerner, who is the mayor of a township that some say is a model for college towns: Princeton, New Jersey. It's the township to which some of Three Village's public figures have pointed during the exploratory phases of reimagining Stony Brook's downtown area.
Patch had the chance this week to chat with Goerner, who said that earnest collaboration between leaders is the key for both "town and gown" to each achieve what's in their best interest.
"I think that over the years there has been a strong, constructive relationship between the governing body and the university," he said. "We may not always see eye to eye, but we can have a professional, constructive dialogue on any issue."
In Princeton, it didn't happen overnight; Princeton the town (established 1696) and Princeton the university (established 1746) have been growing together long before Stony Brook University was established in 1957.
Goerner said there are some within the township who feel the university is a drain on the community, for instance when it comes to municipal services.
"There are concerns … that go along with tax revenue," he said. "There’s some residents [who] may feel they are subsidizing the university’s presence. We’re making progress in that area."
And as most prestigious universities tend to do, there is growth. Something Stony Brook has done rather rapidly over the past several years – and something which will continue to happen, as described in president Samuel L. Stanley Jr.'s recent "State of the University" address.
Growth is not impossible to navigate, Goerner said, but "it’s sometimes tough to get through that without having leadership on both sides."
Of course, some fundamental differences exist between Princeton University and Stony Brook University – namely in that Princeton is a private university that must pay taxes on its property holdings. As a state institution Stony Brook University is tax-exempt, a status that has caused strain in some areas of the community such as the local fire district.
Two years ago, Princeton township and Princeton University negotiated the school's first-ever voluntary financial contribution to the municipality. In 2011, not only did the university pay Princeton township $4.5 million in property and sewer taxes, but it also paid another half-million dollars in voluntary contributions.
"We have felt that they should be paying more, but we have been able to make progress in that area," Goerner said.
But put aside the differences in public and private affiliation for another moment. Goerner said there are more benefits to having a university-centered town than there are drawbacks: Crime tends to be lower; diversity tends to be richer; businesses and public schools thrive. Residents can enjoy the Princeton University Art Gallery, housing works by Monet, Manet and Van Gogh. There are parades and public events, such as "Communiversity," a giant arts festival held each spring. There's even a program through which residents can audit classes at the university.
"Having a university town does bring a lot to the community," Goerner said. "That’s one of the reasons why I chose to live here."
Stony Brook & Princeton At-a-GlanceSide-by-Side School Comparison Princeton University (private school, est. 1746) Stony Brook University (public school, est. 1957) Undergraduate Enrollment (as of fall 2011) 5,173 15,968 Graduate Enrollment 2,610 8,053 Resident/Commuter Status 98 percent residential Approximately 40 percent residential Number of Faculty 1,148 1,902 Annual Tuition $38,650 (excluding room & board)
$5,570 NYS Resident/ $16,190 Out-of-State (both excluding room & board)
Regional Economic Impact $2 billion $4.6 billion
Source: U.S. Census Data