UMass-Amherst town-gown steering committee to interview three finalists for consultant

Saturday, March 01, 2014
AMHERST — Three finalists to assist the University of Massachusetts and town of Amherst in completing a town-gown study focused on meeting future housing needs and promoting economic development will be interviewed Tuesday afternoon.

The town-gown steering committee, which is overseeing the process of hiring a consultant for a $60,000 plan funded jointly by UMass and the town, is scheduled to begin the interviews at 4 p.m. in the Amherst Room on the 10th floor of the UMass Campus Center.

The finalist consultants are czb of Alexandria, Va., Fourth Economy Consulting of Pittsburgh and U3 Advisors of Philadelphia which would handle the work in partnership with Corneil Collaborative of Carlisle and The Cecil Group of Cambridge.

Selected from five applicants, each of the three consultants will be interviewed for 50 minutes.

“These are quality proposals, and I am confident that the committee will select the firm most qualified to guide our work on housing and economic development issues in Amherst,” Assistant Town Manager David Ziomek, co-chairman of the town-gown committee, said in a statement.

Committee co-chairwoman Nancy Buffone, who serves as executive director of external relations and university events at UMass, said in a statement that she is pleased with the proposals and the work these consultants will do.

“This continuing collaboration between the university and the town is key to our mutual success and our quality of life,” Buffone said.

The consultant will work with the committee to review areas where the town and university master plans coincide, where they may be in conflict and where opportunities may have been missed. They will also look at best practices in other college communities.

The material submitted by czb indicates their experience working in college towns, including Chapel Hill, N.C., and Boulder, Colo., and an understanding of the impacts of student rentals and the loss of affordable housing.

“The last thing Amherst needs is a Housing and Economic Development Plan that will sit on the shelf,” wrote czb president Charles Buki. “What Amherst does need is a clear road map for investing in the kinds of housing and neighborhoods and jobs and businesses that local residents and stakeholders care most about.”

Fourth Economy Consulting states that its work is focused on economic development more than planning, such as in assisting the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp.

“While housing is a key component, all of the elements expressed in the RFP (request for proposal) to include the university research output, spin-offs, supporting services and housing should be positioned within the economic development context,” wrote Stephen McKnight, the company’s vice president for community and market assessments.

U3 Advisors has assisted Case Western University in Cleveland and Howard University in Washington, D.C., in developing campus plans.

“Building off of the town and university’s previous planning efforts, the housing and economic development plan will incorporate institutional and community input to establish a shared vision for how the town and university can prosper together,” wrote Omar Blaik, the co-CEO of U3.

Those who attend the interviews will not be able to offer verbal comments, but can provide written feedback on the consultants via email to buffone@admin.umass.edu or ziomekd@amherstma.gov.

The committee will meet again during the week of March 10, including 30 minutes for public comment. One of the finalists will then be recommended to Amherst Town Manager John Musante and UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy for final approval and hiring.