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Ann Hollingworth: Will small town be overrun by big business?

To the editor:

Does a small town with proud local sensibilities have a chance against big corporations?

Student housing development has become big business. The weak economy has brought publicly traded companies such as Toll Brothers and Lennar into the supposedly recession-proof student housing market. In her Wall Street Journal article, “Big real-estate firms are going to school” (Feb. 26), Dawn Wotapka quotes J. Wesley Rogers, president of Landmark Properties, the Georgia developer planning 170 houses for 600 students in the Cushman Village of Amherst: “A lot of people think our space is hot....You see a lot of players circling the space right now.”

Wotapka points out that established student housing developers such as Landmark are trying to buy up land to keep up with the competition. Sometimes these developers pair up with huge real estate investment trusts, which you can trade like stocks, at the buying, managing,\ or developing stage. Landmark Properties sometimes partners with the largest trust, $4.3 billion American Campus Properties, traded as ACC on the stock exchange.

Meanwhile, many college administrators are moving toward privatizing their dorms or encouraging more off-campus housing, as financially strapped states are not providing sufficient funds for building dorms. This group seems to include our own UMass Amherst Chancellor Subbaswamy (See UMass Amherst, Fall, 2012, p. 16).

So this proposed housing project in Cushman is a small cog in a very big wheel. Are we going to let our small town get swallowed up by big business? If so, maybe we should consider buying stock in ACC to offset the decrease of our property values.

Ann Hollingworth


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